The crowd-pleasing "Made in Dagenham," about a strike for equal pay for women workers at a Ford plant in mid-'60's England, will remind many viewers of "Norma Rae." With a winning performance by Sally Hawkins in the lead as Rita, this labor world variation of "the little engine that could" has a charm all its own.
"Made in Dagenham"'s overt feminist message will resonate for everyone in the current economics of layoffs and fair wages; yet, an aspect of women's sensibility is played for irresistible comedy. No matter how heavy the problems of their world, style is part of the discourse--beyond the period detail of Rita's co-worker Brenda's beehive (Angela Riseborough who was so good in last spring's off Broadway play The Pride), or Sandra's (Jamie Winstone) hot pants. Unexpectedly championed by an upper class fellow mom, Lisa Hopkins (the elegant Rosamund Pike), a well-educated housewife stifled in domesticity, Rita admires her red dress and learns the designer is Byblos. Clearly a moment of recognition, many women at the screening chuckled. Later, when Rita meets the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity (Miranda Richardson), the gravitas of an impending strike is punctuated with a light-hearted fashion tip.
The star of Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky," Sally Hawkins is now performing in Roundabout Theater's production of Mrs. Warren's Profession. Leigh, with whom she remains friends, attended a performance when he was in town presenting his new movie "Another Year," one of my favorites from this past New York Film Festival. In East Hampton on Sunday for a special screening of "Made in Dagenham" and dinner at Della Femina hosted by Judy Licht, Hawkins in a smart black suit and multi-tiered crystal necklace and earrings chatted about her work, reviews good and bad. Yes, in real life, the work concerns of a talented actress --whose career is most definitely assured-- seem gender free. But another conversation was just as real: a mutual admiration for jewelry.
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