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Sally Hawkins to star in strike film We Want Sex

The 1968 women's strike by machinists at Ford's Dagenham car plant which paved the way for equal pay in Britain is to be immortalised on screen, with Sally Hawkins as a feisty factory girl and Miranda Richardson as the Labour minister, Barbara Castle.

 
Sally Hawkins to star in We Want Sex; the actress won a Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a comedy or musical for Happy-Go-Lucky
Sally Hawkins to star in We Want Sex; the actress won a Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a comedy or musical for Happy-Go-Lucky Photo: REUTERS

The British film, We Want Sex, is from the same director as Calendar Girls and promises to be a similarly feelgood tale.

Hawkins, whose breakthrough role in last year's Happy-Go-Lucky earned her a Golden Globe and the attentions of Hollywood, will play Rita, who takes the protest all the way to Westminster.

Rosamund Pike, the former Bond girl, has been cast as the wife of a Ford executive, who crosses the class divide to support the women's cause. Andrea Riseborough, who starred as Margaret Thatcher in the recent drama The Long Walk To Finchley, and Jaime Winstone, daughter of actor Ray Winstone, will play factory workers.

The film's title is taken from an infamous moment during the strike when the women staged a demonstration outside Parliament and their banner proclaiming "We Want Sex Equality" failed to unfurl properly.

Announcing the project at the Cannes Film Festival, Hawkins, 33, said: "I cried several times when I read the script, with joy and also with frustration. Without the Ford factory women there would be no equal pay. They weren't politicians, they were seamstresses and housewives, and that's what's so great.

"They sent waves across the world - at Ford in Michigan, there was a fat cat realising that these women in Dagenham were threatening his world. Without the women, the whole industry came to a standstill. It's such a brilliant story, you wonder why it hasn't been told before."

Her character is a "fiery, feisty, intelligent, passionate woman who is suddenly plunged into the world of politics and finds herself leading this feminist fight. She is an amalgam of the women who were at the forefront of the strike. I feel very honoured to be asked to do it."

The women were sewing machinists who made the interiors for the cars at Dagenham. They were classed as unskilled workers and paid less than their male colleagues.

The strike gathered momentum over the summer of 1968 and came to represent women's struggle for equality. Castle, who was then employment secretary, invited the women for tea and her dedication to the cause brought about the Equal Pay Act, introduced in 1970.

Director Nigel Cole, whose previous credits include Calendar Girls, said that Miranda Richardson, 51, was his choice to play Castle, a role first linked to Imelda Staunton.

"Barbara Castle is one of those politicians who is often described as attractive and sexy, although at the time I didn't think so. There are rumours of her having affairs - the title of this film is very appropriate for her! So to have an actress as sexy and funny as Miranda Richardson is perfect."

Filming begins in six weeks' time and most of it will take place on location in Dagenham. The storyline "couldn't be more topical", Cole added. "I think we are moving into another period when people are having to fight to protect their rights against companies' understandable desire to keep profits up and costs low. We even have a storyline about a union boss who is a little over-zealous with his expenses - that could never happen these days, could it!"

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