Film reviews: Made in Dagenham | The Secret of Kells | Police, Adjective

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Made in Dagenham (15)*** Directed by: Nigel Cole Starring: Sally Hawkins, Rosamund Pike, Miranda Richardson, Bob Hoskins

IT'S hard to be too critical of the predictably slick and cheerful way Made in Dagenham approaches its based-on-fact story about the 1968 industrial action that helped pave the way for the Equal Pay Act of 1970.

From the director of Calendar Girls, it seems to have been created with one desperate eye on decent UK box-office returns and another on a future brand-expanding West End musical adaptation. Yet the film is entertaining enough in a jolly, old-fashioned UK sitcom-kind of way to and some of the cast do a decent job of cutting through the caricature-like way the characters have been conceived to at least give us some sense that they're based on actual living, breathing human beings.

Chief among that cast is Sally Hawkins, who takes the lead as Rita O'Grady, an amalgam of several women who helped bring the 55,000-strong work of Ford's Dagenham plant to a halt over issues of sexual discrimination regarding their pay.

Though it's hard to believe Rita's path from relatively meek factory worker, loving wife and devoted mother to an unwitting icon of women's lib would have been quite as smooth as the one fictionalised here, Hawkins does imbues Rita with plenty of spark so that when she does find her voice and stands up for herself and her colleagues for the first time, it's easy to believe the confidence surge she'd experience would be enough to propel her forward as their strike for equal pay gathers political momentum and the interest of secretary of state Barbara Castle (played by Miranda Richardson).

Still, whatever good work Hawkins and some of her female co-stars do (Rosamund Pike makes the most of an underwritten role as the Cambridge-educated trophy wife of one of Rita's bosses), it's undercut somewhat by the way the film reduces virtually all the men to cartoon chauvinists.

Save for Bob Hoskins, who is predictably adorable as the women-respecting shop steward cheering Rita on from the sidelines, the film chooses to conjure up the indisputably reactionary attitudes of the times by trotting out stock characters rather than attempting to dig a little deeper to convincingly hint at the ingrained pettiness and narrow-minded fears driving their attitudes. Whatever its faults, it's a story worth telling.

The Secret of Kells (U)****

Directed by: Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey

Voices: Brendan Gleeson, Evan McGuire, Mick Lally, Christen Mooney

DESPITE a surprise Oscar nomination for best animated feature earlier this year (where it competed against the likes of Up, Coraline and Fantastic Mr Fox), The Secret of Kells is only now slipping into cinemas with barely any fanfare.

That's too bad, as this understated Irish charmer deserves to reach a wider audience, if only to remind people that animation is a diverse medium that can be exploited in numerous ways to tell all sorts of stories.

This one may not have the driving narrative momentum audiences weaned on modern classics from Pixar and the like might expect, but its tale about a ginger-headed medieval monk-in-training called Brendan who embarks on a mission to gather the materials needed to write the illuminated bible, The Book of Kells, is enchanting in other ways. Full of lovely hand-drawn visuals, the animation style feels unique and organic to the myth-heavy story being told, but contains plenty of humour too that helps it avoid that prescriptive this-is-good-for-you tone which films designed to celebrate a culture's mystical heritage are sometimes guilty of indulging.

Police, Adjective (15)**

Directed by: Corneliu Porumboiu

Starring: Dragos BUcur, Vlad Ivanov, George Remes

THE tedium of a drug sting is examined from the cop's perspective in Police, Adjective, the latest Romanian film to suggest that the New Wave of film-making brought to international attention by Cristian Mungui's brilliant 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days a couple of years ago might be more of a minor ripple than a riptide.

Already a big winner at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, the film, the latest from 12:08 East of Bucharest director Corneliu Porumboiu, certainly shows that the emperor's new clothes still have the power to dazzle.

Draining anything approaching drama from its scenario (about a cop agonising over whether he should ruin a young kid's life by busting him for smoking and dealing a few joints), Police, Adjective spends nearly two inert hours observing its miserable, recently married cop protagonist Cristi (Dragos Bacur) observing his teenage subject, writing detailed reports in long-hand, and having semantic arguments with his schoolteacher wife and his superiors about the nature of morality.

Sadly, the film does little more than illuminate the audacity of a film-maker intent on testing the benevolence of his audience by presenting them with nothing of interest to watch.

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