‘Strikers’ tale had me in fits’

Producer Stephen Woolley talks about his new film, Made in Dagenham.

THE MUCH-ANTICIPATED film, Made in Dagenham, about Ford factory strikers in the 1960s, opens in cinemas next week.

Starring Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson, Bob Hoskins and Jaime Winstone, is produced by Stephen Woolley, who produced hit films The Crying Game and Interview with the Vampire.

He says the idea for the film came about when he was driving home from work, turned on the radio and found himself in the company of the 1968 Ford Dagenham women strikers.

He listened in fits of laughter as the ladies recounted the tale of their accidental stumble into the world of politics and feminism.

He said he thought instantly “this would make a great movie”.

“It was incredible listening to those ladies telling their story on that reunion programme,” said Stephen. “They were all so matter of fact about what they had done.

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“None of them were political or feminist; they just wanted a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

“They certainly had no idea of the huge significance of what they were about to achieve and that it would revolutionise women in the workplace.”

The 1968 Ford Dagenham women machinists’ strike led directly to the Equal Pay Act in 1970.

It is now considered to be one of the first major steps in the feminist movement.

Wanting to bring his idea to fruition, Stephen approached Billy Ivory – who has penned TV shows such as The Dustbinmen – to write the script.

Stephen said: “It was about four years ago when I first spoke to Billy about writing the script for Made In Dagenham. He seemed very much in love with the idea. So he penned different versions of the script during the development process and we went from there.”

Bringing this story to life required dedicated research into the culture of 1960s Dagenham to ensure the characters and look of the film are faithful to the period.

Even the music is borough-based as film-makers persuaded Dagenham-born Sandie Shaw, who worked in the factory for a while before being discovered singing at Ilford Palais, to sing the title track.

“Of course we aren’t making a documentary,” said Stephen. “Some aspects have been changed but we have tried to remain as faithful to the original series of events as possible. The film is a mixture of high drama and comedy.

“We see the struggle of these women machinists, who are doing the same job as the men, but being paid less for it.

“And also we see the struggle of Barbara Castle, who intervened in the strikes. She was one of the first top women MPs and had a real fight on her hands.”

Made In Dagenham was filmed in Rush Green, Dagenham, on the Mardyke Estate in Rainham and in a Croydon shopping precinct. The factory scenes were shot at the old Hoover factory in Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales.

On August 9 the cast and crew had an early start as they were shooting a protest scene outside the House of Commons at 5am.

This demonstration was particularly famous because of the comic faux-pas which occurred when the women strikers unfurled their banner.

Stephen said: “It should have read ‘We Want Sex Equality’ but the last word was covered up so it just said ‘We Want Sex’.

“All these motorists were driving by and honking at the women and they were all thinking ‘this is great, everyone is really supporting us’. It was only later they realised what had happened. It’s another one of the strikers’ stories which is just so fantastically funny.”

Made In Dagenham premiered at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month.

Directed by Nigel Cole, who also directed Calendar Girls – starring Dame Helen Mirren – the film will be released on Friday October 1.

Stephen says: “It’s a film about equality and the fact that ordinary people can achieve the extraordinary. Everybody, young or old, can relate to that.”