Saturday, January 15, 2011

Made In Dagenham / Another Year

MADE IN DAGENHAM is an uplifting counterpoint to the bitterly accurate portrayals of working-class life presented by Mike Leigh, for example, in his great film, VERA DRAKE. "We make a lot of films about the working-class in Britain" the director of MADE IN DAGENHAM, Nigel Cole, notes, "but they are often laments, complaints, or simply bleak." In the great heyday of British cinema, there was Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Runner, and Billy Liar, to name but three. The latter introduced Julie Christie in her breakout role as everyone's archetypal 1960's woman, playing off against Tom Courtenay's stay-at-home Northerner.

Iain Sinclair's essay, The Raging Peloton, in the current (January 20th) issue of London Review Of Books, makes a good companion-piece to Made In Dagenham, dealing as it does with cultural history, politics, and the relation of the bicycle to faux socialism.

We see the plethora of bicycles coming and going from the Ford Dagenham factory, pedalled by the workers there who could not afford a car. With the inimitable Bob Hoskins taking a lead role with Sally Hawkins and an excellent supporting cast including Miranda Richardson as Barbara Castle, MADE IN DAGENHAM is an unsentimental look at the way of life effectively destroyed by Margaret Thatcher and the Tories before Tony Blair, selling out the Labour Party's socialist ideals in order to take power, buried it forever.

The mode is resurrected some in Mike Leigh's most recent masterwork, ANOTHER YEAR, his film of middle Britain's no-exit misery, with the best-we-can-hope-for almost cartoon "happy marriage" of Tom and Gerri, sunk into their soggy allotment, and with their goody-goody son and his sudsy-extrovert occupational therapist girlfriend, balanced against denial, dysfunction, disappointment, despair and death, with a stunning performance by Lesley Manville as Mary, in the throes of her lonely, sad, and drunken descent, and by all of the Leigh ensemble. ANOTHER YEAR is a kind of British response to Eric Rohmer's Parisian up-beat joie de vivre if you will, a take, as Leigh has said on "how to give love and affection" without going over-the-top, which is to say, stiff-upper-lip, have a chat, and drink your tea.

MADE IN DAGENHAM is, despite its one Dickensian death, an attempt at a feel-good well-paced feminist movie which pulls no punches in its Retro look at UK life during the time when most Americans regarded Britain only through the superficial lens of "swinging London" and music for export and Carnaby Street fashion hype.