The delightful British actress Sally Hawkins (right), whose crooked, big-toothed smile can be arresting, is as good a reason as any to see "Made in Dagenham," playing at the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke. Her Poppy in 2008's "Happy-Go-Lucky" simply stole my heart, but she faced a far different challenge with "Dagenham" and she nailed it, too.
Miss Hawkins, playing a Norma Rae-style labor leader--meaning reluctant, inexperienced, but tough--might have been tempted to go over the top with the portrayal of Rita O'Grady, a "machinist" (meaning sewing machinist) at Ford Motor Company in England in the late 1960s, but she chose to underplay it. And she is just about perfect, shining above a marvelous supporting cast that includes the always-watchable Bob Hoskins.
William Ivory's intelligent and witty screenplay is spot-on, as is the direction of Nigel Cole, who directed the memorable "Calendar Girls" and "Saving Grace." Ivory's credits are mostly on TV.
This is the strike that led to equal pay for women in Britain and in many other countries and, as with Norma Rae, it is led by a line worker, a simple woman with a nice family, living on the edges of the middle class and perfectly content with just about all of it.
The spectre of inequality, however, lights a fire in Rita and she goes to work with a natural organizing ability that leads to a meeting with the British Secretary of State (which is not a parallel to the same post in the U.S., but one handling domestic affairs).
The movie is populated with the proper number and scale of male chauvinist pigs, supportive spouses, infighting within the union and a a smidge of drama that is, frankly, hardly worth the effort, given the predictability of the ending (I mean, would the story have been written if she had failed?).
It is, like "Happy-Go-Lucky," a vehicle for a vastly under-appreciated actress to shine. And Sally Hawkins does just that.