Nigel Cole is the director of "Made in Dagenham," the story of the 1968 Ford Dagenham sexual discrimination strike. The film, which stars Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson, and Bob Hoskins, is being released by Sony Pictures Classics on November 19.
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.”
Finding the right factory
“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.”
“At the time, the Ford factory in Dagenham was the largest factory in Europe,” explains director Nigel Cole, who thoroughly researched the history of the strike for Made in Dagenham. “It's hard to believe just how huge it was, with some 55,000 men employed there, making half a million cars a year. In 1968, there were a small number of women employed in the factory as sewing machinists, sewing the car seats together. They had recently been downgraded in their pay structures as „unskilled? and they were furious about it. Understandably so, as they were more skilled than many of the men. So they went on strike. And the strike grew and grew and, because they weren't producing the car seats, it got to the point that Ford couldn't make cars anymore. They ended up bringing the entire factory to its knees. Thousands of men were laid off and it became a huge national crisis.”
“Initially, they had the men's support,” says Cole. “Although the men were amused by the whole thing at first, as the women hadn't been on strike before. And, in those days, as indeed it is to this day, women?s work was considered less important than men?s work. But, as it got more serious and the men got laid off, some of them turned against the women. They felt as though they should just stand aside and let the men get on with their jobs.”
“It got to a point where Barbara Castle, the leading female politician of the day, got involved,” continues Cole. “She negotiated the settlement with the women and out of that came the Equal Pay Act 1970. So these ordinary women, who had never been involved in anything political in their lives, suddenly found themselves at the Houses of Parliament negotiating with a senior politician and bringing about a revolution in rights for women. It is an inspiring story and it?s so great to feel like you?re telling a story that needs to be told.”