In 1968, two years prior to the Equal Pay Act, Rita O'Grady (Sally Hawkins) and 187 other women are slaving away for a pittance at Ford's Dagenham manufacturing plant. Discontentment is stirring, and when the women's machinist jobs are reclassified as 'unskilled', union rep Albert Passingham (Bob Hoskins) persuades plucky Rita to take a stand.
When her request for equality is rebuffed by Ford execs, the women decide to down tools. But money becomes tight and relationships strained as the reality of a strike hits home. Luckily, a boost comes in the form of ball-busting Employment Secretary Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson), who is keen to champion the ladies' cause.
The director of Calendar Girls brings a similar British grit and warmth to this enjoyable fact-based tale. While Hawkins' Rita is a character cooked up by first-time feature writer Billy Ivory, the film as a whole recalls a significant period in British history.
A fine cast features Andrea Riseborough and Jaime Winstone on the picket line, and Albert and Rita's put-upon partners Rosamund Pike and Daniel Mays on the sidelines. Hawkins, however, is the heart and soul of the film, who after winning a Golden Globe for Happy-Go-Lucky, puts in another striking performance.
For the most part, serious social commentary loses out to a good old-fashioned underdog tale, making Made in Dagenham uplifting, funny and thoroughly entertaining.