Factory Girls

Made in Dagenham
Released Australia: October 28

In much the same way as Mad Men has had the style set salivating over its early ’60s costumes and settings, Made in Dagenham owes much to its attention to costumes and set design—although Dagenham sure ain’t Madison Ave. Don’t be put off by the rather twee posters—this film is heartwarming, hilarious, tragic and the best example of Girl Power since the Spice Girls (ahem).

It’s based on the true story of the 1968 female Ford machinists’ strike for semi-skilled status, which then becomes a landmark strike for equal pay. From the opening shot of Ford’s female factory workers arriving at the Dagenham plant on bicycles, with their beehives and headscarves, cardigans and cotton frocks, it’s obvious that this film would have kept the nine-strong wardrobe department gainfully employed.

The theme of equality runs throughout the film, from the workers’ battle for equal pay, to equality in the home (the women have always supported the men’s strikes, but the men find it difficult to reciprocate, go figure), and to two women at opposite ends of the class spectrum dealing with a teacher bullying their sons—posh Lisa (Rosamund Pike) and strike leader Rita (Sally Hawkins).

And there’s a lot of bonding over clothes. Early on Rita admires Lisa’s raspberry Biba dress with white buttons (above), out of her reach financially. Other label-dropping comes from the likes of Mary Quant (and some rather fetching hotpants). (For those wanting to get the look, outside of their favourite vintage store, Laura Ashley was approached by Paramount to partner with the film as its classic, ladylike designs perfectly reflect the film’s style and time-frame.)

But the most telling moments in the film—and again, great levellers—play out in wardrobe. When Rita and the workers are about to meet new Secretary of State Barbara Castle (a fabulously coiffed Miranda Richardson) at Westminster, she heads over to Lisa’s to borrow that Biba dress (the great irony being that Lisa is married to one of the Ford honchos trying to quash their battle, much as he quashes the intellect and ambitions of his Cambridge-educated wife). Lisa happily hands it over for Rita’s big moment. At the end of the meeting, as the workers and Castle are about to face the press, Castle turns to Rita and the conversation goes something like this:

Barbara: “That’s Biba, isn’t it? I saw it in a magazine.”
Rita: “Yes. I have to give it back after this. That’s C&A, isn’t it? I’ve got the same one at home.”
Barbara: “Why pay more?”

Why, indeed? Powerful and frugal. That should be a lesson to us all. Ahem.

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