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We chat to the creators of Made in Dagenham including director Nigel Cole

Made in Dagenham
26 September 2010

The cast and crew came to London last week to promote their new film Made In Dagenham starring Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson and a whole host of british talent and hits cinemas on October 1st. Firstly we chatted to Director Nigel Cole and Producers Stephen Woolley and Elizabeth Karlsen…

Made In Dagenham Film Page


When did you all become aware of the story?

(Stephen Woolley) I had just dropped the kids off at school and I was driving back in the car listening to a show called “The Union”. I was laughing so hard because these women didn’t seem to have any fear and were laughing at everything, making a joke out of these terrible working conditions they were in. It reminded me of my aunts, I grew up around a similar situation in North London, one of them worked in a factory, one in a shop, one was a cleaner, and they were wonderful people. I didn’t know about the strike in 1968. I listened to the rest of it and then called my office. I was so surprised that so little people had heard of the story.

(Elizabeth Karlsen) I think we were very lucky to hear it as a radio programme. It’s been running for 6 years on radio four. If you had read about it in a textbook it would have come across as so aret. Here you actually get the voices of the women, full of humor and irreverent without being politicised, educated, left wing, radical students. They just thought “This aint fair!”.

(Nigel Cole) When the men were short of workers the women would often help, but when the women were they couldn’t help because the men didn’t know how to work the machines. So, they knew it was a skill, they knew they were right. These aren’t women that woke up one and said, I know, let’s fight for equal pay. They were just cross, they were angry they had been downgraded and felt that was a miss justice. This wonderful organic process grew and so we were really keen to make a film about these characters that weren’t doing it out of vanity or had a political agenda but just simply had a beef.


Did you instantly have an idea of who you wanted to cast in these roles?

(Stephen Woolley) I think we had more luck in casting this then you usually expect. Pretty much everyone was our first choice. I remember I write a note for Rosamond, saying we would love her to play this role and although its a small part its a quite pivotal and the moment that you have are crucial to telling the whole story. It’s a small part but its juicy. 

(Elizabeth Karlsen) The film is very collaborative, obviously Nigel as the directory is leading everyone but you’re only as good as the people around you. I think if you have a story where we knew what we wanted, we hired Billy Ivory and then Nigel and everything starts lining up. Then you hire the casting director and then becomes the dreadful expression “everyone’s on the same page”.


Are you concerned that it’s going to be perceived as a chick flick?

(Stephen Woolley) I think men are going to enjoy the film too. Not many men were excited about seeing Mamma Mia, yet its become the biggest grossing film. We are not worried at all that the first wave of people that come and see this film are going to be women. Our kids have all seen Calender Girls, because they watched it on DVD. As long as those people that we know will enjoy the film, go and see it, I think we will be ok.

(Elizabeth Karlsen) I think also without being too political about the gender politics. You men can probably say something quite liberating has happened to you now a days, like you can drop your kids off a school, or sit in the park, and I think that the equality of roles in life is far more satisfying now.


Do you wonder how the film is going to appeal to foreign audiences?

(Stephen Woolley) From the script stage it had instant appeal from Europeans. You’re talking about something very universal, every country in Europe has factories and employees that are badly treated. 

(Elizabeth Karlsen) I think you kind of have to just put your head down and do it. You’re always going to get people saying “oh that’s not going to work”. Its a big thing to get a film made, so you just have to get on with it and hope for the best.

(Stephen Woolley) The title was definitely an issue. It was previous called “I Want Sex” and it will still be called that in most European countries but the UK transport refused to have “We want Sex” posters on their buses because some people might find that offensive.


What’s the biggest challenge of recreating the look of that time?

(Stephen Woolley) There were two sort of things that we had to do, the environment that they lived in and the factory. Everything else was going from to and Westminster. We lucked out with finding an amazing estate and interior.

(Nigel Cole) I had not done a period film before, so I was scared, but luckily I found out that there are people to do it for you! It was very important to us that we got across some of the scale of ford and that it was this enormous machine that they were taking on. It pretty much doesn’t exist anymore but we did find a factory in Wales that was a hoover factory that just shut down and was moving to Turkey. My art department was chaining themselves to big blocks of machinery saying “please don,t take this, we need this”.

The particular estate we used had been through some very dark years with drugs and crime problems, but at the time in 1968 this was a step up. The fact they had inside bathrooms and modern kitchens and central heating was luxury compare to the homes they grew up in. It was nice to show these estates as how they were intended to be lived in as a kind of modern, positive way of life.


What were the reactions from the real Ford women?

(Stephen Woolley) Well when we first went there they were a little bit apprehensive. I think they have had quite a few researchers go down and talk to them, but nothing came of it. We lucked out with Sandy Shaw for the song at the end of the movie. Sandy Shaw is the one girl that escaped, she worked at the ford plant and was discovered at 17. That was the final, wow, its got to be real, they loved the film, their daughters, their grand daughetrs love it. One of them said to me, “That factory was so hot, we used to take our clothes off in the summer, wear big coats in the winter, but we never wanted to go into the mens factory. We wanted to be together, we had so much fun together” and I think that’s what Nigel has done such a brilliant job of capturing, the comradery. That spirit is there.