"Made in Dagenham": A patronizing film about working-class feminism

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It's not like "Made in Dagenham" marks the first time a fascinating historical episode has been made into mediocre melodrama. Moviemakers have ransacked history since the medium was invented, but the combination too often results in bad movies and bad history. You can't even call "Made in Dagenham" bad -- it's a competent entertainment, built around an enjoyable performance by the superb English actress Sally Hawkins (Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky"). But it does manage to take a crucial turning point in feminist and labor history -- an event loaded with ambiguous significance -- and render it into one of those gang-of-gals movies full of bicycles, reggae songs, underwear shots and scenes of emotional growth. (Memo to producers: You can't use Jimmy Cliff's "You Can Get It if You Really Want" in your movie. You just can't. It is against the law.)

There can be no doubt that the story of the female machinists' strike in 1968 at the Ford plant in Dagenham, England, is worth telling. That event in an east London industrial suburb had social consequences that were arguably a lot more meaningful and far-reaching than, say, the invention of Facebook.... It was a moment that suggested class politics wasn't just for guys and feminism wasn't just for well-bred university girls.

All that stuff, the complicated social and political reverberations of the Dagenham strike, is totally fascinating -- but it's also just packing material around the edges of a standard-issue female-empowerment ensemble drama, complete with kicky period costumes, rapid Cockney chatter and shots of the women stripping down to their brassieres and slips for a day in the hot factory....

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