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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Made' charming British version of 'Norma Rae'

Photo: Sony Classics
 Sally Hawkins plays Rita O’Grady in “Made in Dagenham.” 

Photo: Sony Classics Sally Hawkins plays Rita O’Grady in “Made in Dagenham.” 

Made in Dagenham (PG-13)

2 1/2 stars out of 4

“Made in Dagenham” is the kind of cute and plucky comedic drama British filmmakers have been cranking out for years. Every character with a speaking part has a distinct personality (or quirk) that over the course of the film endears them to the audience, which is certainly the case here. The only character that could be considered bland is American — which makes all kind of sense given the tone and attitude of the movie.

What makes this movie and so many like it so exceedingly average is the subpar screenplay that plays everything ultra-safe and fails to take a chance at being the least bit edgy. This is not the ideal approach for a movie about the strained relationship between a faceless corporation and its disgruntled employees.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve probably been able to quite correctly surmise that “Made” is essentially “Norma Rae” set in 1960s England. A formerly mousy and low-key female worker is egged on by her spunky co-workers to be their voice and make a lot of noise until their employer caves in and gives them what they want.

Up front and center as the Norma Rae character is Sally Hawkins (“Happy Go Lucky”) as Rita O’Grady, a mother, wife, homemaker and seamstress who puts together something or other for Ford cars in Dagenham. Rita and her female co-workers are tired of getting paid less than their male counterparts and after some minor confrontations with their respective families decide to go on strike.

This wouldn’t be a big deal if it was taking place in America, but Ford was worried about it on two levels. First it gives them a lot of negative publicity in foreign markets but more importantly it could set a precedent and lead to them having to pay women more money in every country where they operate.

As the strike drags on, Prime Minister Harold Wilson (John Sessions) and his Secretary of State Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson) are unwillingly pulled into the mess and this opens the door for a possible international incident that will serve no one. It should be mentioned that Wilson and Castle are the only non-fictional characters in the film. Everyone else — including Rita — is a fictional composite.

If you ignore the “Norma Rae” connection, “Made” could strike you as a workable bookend/companion piece to last year’s underrated gem “An Education.” Both have the ’60s setting, deal with women’s issues, sport an eclectic pop soundtrack and totally nail the costume and set designs. In it Hawkins had a fleeting, almost forgettable part but her co-star in both films — Rosamund Pike — stole scene after scene and she does so here as well.

Often overlooked as an actress because of her classic, Grace Kelly-like beauty, Pike played a ditzy airhead in “An Education” but is anything but that in “Made.” The wife of a local Ford executive, her character Lisa slowly forges an uneasy friendship with Rita and eventually takes her side in the strike. It is the only subplot in the film that provides anything resembling dramatic tension.

“Made” is charming, well-acted and certainly has its heart in the right place but you might forget everything about it shortly after leaving the theater. (Sony Classics)