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MADE IN DAGENHAM

Making The Film
With a constellation of Britain's finest actors portraying a real-life triumph of the power of sisterhood, Made in Dagenham makes captivating drama from a little-remembered piece of social history. A true sense of camaraderie shines from the powerful ensemble cast and their work with the film's creators.

"The idea for Made in Dagenham came out of a program I'd heard on Radio 4 called „The Reunion,‟” explains producer Stephen Woolley. "The format of the show is to get together a group of people that had been involved in something special in the past. These women were on, talking about the strike of 1968. They had worked in appalling conditions in this factory. But, because they were a very small percentage of the workforce, Ford kept ignoring their requests – until they finally decided to fight back. I was fascinated by their story, and what struck me in particular was how innocent and unpoliticized they were. All they wanted was a fair deal. It was common sense rather than any kind of axe to grind.”

Along with his Number 9 Films producing partner Elizabeth Karlsen, Woolley traveled to Dagenham to meet the women. "They were great,” he grins, "really funny. But it became very obvious after talking to them that it would be impossible to take just one of their stories. Had we focused on just one of the women – her story, her husband, her kids –it would have been an invasion of her privacy. Anyway, we're making a film, not a documentary. So we created a character that represents a cross-section of two or three of the women, rather than one in particular. That's how we came up with Rita. She may be a fictionalized amalgam of several real people but we have kept true to the events. The strike did take place in this way and the women did meet Barbara Castle on that day. It's such an inspiring story.”

With such strong source material, Woolley and Karlsen needed a writer and director who could capture the spirit of these indomitable women. "We worked steadily with Billy Ivory developing the script,” explains Karlsen, and he really nailed that milieu and moment in time.” The next step was hiring Calendar Girls director Nigel Cole. "Nigel had actually grown up near Dagenham around the time of the strike,” says Woolley, "so he knew the people and what the characters would be like. Also, we knew that he could direct a brilliant ensemble cast, as he had in Calendar Girls.”

Meanwhile, Nigel Cole fell in love with the script as soon as he read it. "I knew immediately it was my kind of film,” he smiles. "It has the right mix of humor, comedy and drama that I always look for. I don't really do straight comedy because I like to have some meat and content to my films. And I don't do bleak, dark drama either: I'm too flippant. So I like a mixture of warmth and comedy and strong drama and this is exactly that. And, for reasons I can never quite fathom, I‟m more interested in women's stories than men's.”

When it came to finding a location, "The factory is the backbone of the film,” explains Karlsen. "The buildings at Dagenham have all gone, so we found this old Hoover factory in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. It was perfect for the shoot because it's no longer a working factory. It used to employ five thousand people but, sadly, they have been closing it down over the past few months.” The effect on the local community in Wales has parallels with the struggle in the film.

"The heart of Merthyr has been ripped out,” agrees Cole. "Thousands of workers are now unemployed, which got us all fired up politically, and reinforced the idea that this is an important story to tell. Filming in the factory was really helpful because everyone could feel what it would really be like to work in a place like this. We tried to employ as many local people as possible, and have about 50 local women playing striking women in the film. They also came to London for those scenes and really enjoyed it.”

Sally Hawkins, who plays Rita, went to the site of the old factory in Dagenham as part of her research.

"It's really sad, like an old ghost town,” she says. "But it's so interesting because that area is steeped in history. People flocked to Dagenham in the 1960s because of Ford. The factory created thousands of jobs. I like doing research so I wanted to meet the women, especially as the story and my character are so rooted in reality. The women were really lovely, and Billy Ivory's screenplay jumps off the page because he really captured their voices. To play Rita, I had to put myself in their way of thinking. It made me realize how lucky, as women, we are now. Women today have so many opportunities that these women certainly didn't.”

For Hawkins, the 40-day shoot was a lot of fun. "I made some really good friends on this film,” she smiles. "That sense of female camaraderie and friendship is pretty rare on a film set and, on this one, it's so important. The women of the factory looked out for each other because they loved each other, and we tried to foster that relationship on set too. The other actresses are a bunch of lovely, brilliant women, who really embodied the parts and made them real. I have never laughed so much on set. And the men were great too: Danny Mays, who plays my husband, is really lovely and passionate about what he does. And Nigel Cole is just gorgeous: brilliant and funny. He was so willing to keep exploring and pushing us all. I was happy to have him steering the ship because you need to have complete trust in the people you're working with and I had that on this set.”

Andrea Riseborough, who plays Brenda, nods in agreement: "Making the film was one of the most joyful and unique experiences I've had on set,” she says. "This is the third movie Sally and I have made together and it is a joy to work with her always. The other women I hadn't worked with previously but very quickly we developed a close bond and all found ourselves becoming an extension of our characters behind the camera as the film progressed. Nigel Cole has a way of making each cast member, from principal to supporting artist, feel that their role is ultimately essential and that what we are making is vital and worthy. The opportunity of working with him is not something any actor should pass up. The feeling on set was one of purpose. We all felt that the story we were telling needed to be told and we were all going to do it as well as we bloody could.”

For Riseborough, the opportunity to research the women of Dagenham and the history of the factory was invaluable.

"There are hours of archive footage from which to draw reference about the women, speaking both about their struggle at the time, and after the fact, all of which gives you an insight into not only their history but a clear picture of their physicality, speech and extraordinary nuances,” she explains. "We visited en masse, and filmed in the estate in which they would have lived and had lessons in how to operate the heavy-duty machinery with which they sewed the car interiors. It was a fascinating and really valuable experience. The work was hard and long and the women were at odds with their archaic, crumbling surroundings in the worst factory building on the plant.”

Rosamund Pike, who plays Lisa, the wife of the factory boss, agrees that this is powerful story, which will undoubtedly tug at the heartstrings. "The film will be very, very moving,” she says. "Sally is absolutely brilliant as Rita. You're watching a woman pushed to her extremes. It‟s about a woman stepping outside her own box and exploring the limits of her fortitude, strength, courage and intellectual ability. She rises magnificently to the challenge, but n

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