Essex Girls, Union militants and a bit of history…
In the last few decades, a small cottage industry has grown up in Britain, developing a certain type of film, one which I would categorise as the “feel good working class defeat movie”. This started back in the late 1980s, with “The Big Man”, and has continued through “The Full Monty”, and “Brassed Off”, “Up and Under”, and a number of other films or TV movies, that share a number of attributes.
Firstly, they are all records of defeat – the miners strike, the destruction of the Steel industry, the general victory of Thatcherism over social democratic values are always the backdrop to this kind of film – introducing tragedy and pathos as major themes.
Secondly, the solution to the characters problems is often communal, but always entrepreneurial; win a Brass band competition, win a bare knuckle fight, start stripping – “just get back on your feet boys, you can do it!” is the subliminal message we find more often than not.
An idealised picture of working class life, mainly centring on male roles, and how these have changed. The working class all live North of the Watford Gap.
These films are not in the same category as those by Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and the excellent Shane Meadows, all of whom have been able to capture snapshots of ordinary life with humour and emotion, as well as accuracy.
A general line throughout these films that the Unions cannot win – however brave and honourable the struggle, it is always doomed, however much we regret this. The concurrent to this is that the only way to salvation is to escape your class.
These film have made us feel good by touching a nerve – we wish things were different, but they aren’t. The escapism is no less than when watching “Four Weddings” say, or “Notting Hill”, or any Merchant Ivory confection.
“Made in Dagenham” however, looks like a film that bucks this trend. Set in the huge Ford plant in Essex at the end of the sixties, it follows the true struggle of women workers for equal pay for equal work. This battle was not only successful, but led directly to the first sexual equality legislation since the emancipation of women in the 1920s, brought in by Barbara Castle. It was a Trades Union battle par excellence, with right on its side, led by the women themselves.
It comes out this week, and I urge you all to see this film, which I will review soon…