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Ladies Man: “Made in Dagenham” Director Nigel Cole

Ladies Man: "Made in Dagenham" Director Nigel Cole

It appears that director Nigel Cole has a thing for the ladies. A Brit best known for helming “Saving Grace,” a precursor to “Weeds” that stars Blenda Blethyn as a small-town English widow who turns to growing marijuana to pay her bills, and “Calendar Girls,” the true story of a group of Yorkshire women who produced a nude calendar to raise money for leukemia research; his latest, “Made in Dagenham,” reaches back in the history books to chronicle the 1968 Ford sewing machinists strike at the Ford Dagenham assembly plant, where female workers walked out to demand equal pay.

But, as a warm and engaging Cole told indieWIRE, while in New York promoting his film which opens November 19, he doesn’t see himself necessarily as a ‘women’s director.’

“I just pick the best stories I can find,” he said. “And then later, once I made the film I think, ‘Oh it’s about women again.’ I don’t deliberately set out to do it.”

Cole added when further pressed, “I think films about men are often about characters who don’t want to express their feelings. You’re supposed to kind of admire them for not expressing their feelings. And I feel that’s a bit dull. Women’s stories often have stronger emotional content, which I enjoy doing. What I really love doing is mixing that with humor.”

“Made in Dagenham” fits snugly into that template by telling an uplifting story of women overcoming huge odds, with a light, buoyant tone that makes for a fun tale. Cole said the humor and joie de vivre he suffused his picture with came mostly as a result of meeting the real ladies of Dagenham.

“We were lucky enough to talk to several of the women who went on strike,” he said. “When they told their stories they made us laugh so much. They were so funny about it, and had such an irreverent sense of humor. The excitement they felt while doing it really came across. So we tried to capture that. I wanted these women to be funny because they are in real life.”

Cole grew up near Dagenham, and remembers 1968 vividly, but admitted that he didn’t know their story before coming onto the project. He cited not knowing as the main reason for his decision to helm the picture.

“It’s about time these women were allowed a victory parade,” Cole said. “We all are very keen to celebrate their success.”

Sally Hawkins in Nigel Cole’s “Made in Dagenham.” [Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics]

Another reason Cole cited, was the opportunity to work with Sally Hawkins. In “Made in Dagenham,” Hawkins stars as the leader of the pack Rita O’Grady. Cole didn’t have to fight hard to cast the “Happy Go Lucky” star; she was attached before he even came on board. Once on set, Cole said his admiration for the Oscar-nominated actress increased tenfold.

“She’s the hardest working actress I’ve worked with,” he said. “She has a natural talent that just flows from her. Sometimes you see her, and think she’s been up all night working. And she has. She is so determined to make it good.”

“Made in Dagenham” first premiered earlier in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, and has since been popping up at a number of festivals in anticipation of the looming awards season. Matters kicked into high gear this month when “Made in Dagenham” scored a number of British Independent Film Award nominations, including ones for Hawkins and the film’s screenplay. While Cole said he is elated at the awards buzz surrounding his latest effort, he stressed that he “tries to stay above all that.”

“Mostly of all I care that the audience likes the film,” he said. “I’m not making films for middle aged journalists, who are mostly men. I make films that hopefully entertain people, where they can learn something about life.”

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