In “Made in Dagenham,” Nigel Cole’s uplifting true account of the 1968 Ford sewing machinists strike, British stage and screen vet Miranda Richardson embodies famous redhead and British Secretary of State for Employment Barbara Castle. In typical fashion for the Oscar-nominee, Richardson rips into the role of the outspoken politician, crafting a Castle full of swagger, unwavering confidence and brash femininity for a film full of strong turns from the likes of Sally Hawkins, Bob Hopkins and Rosamund Pike. Richardson has arguably the showiest role of the bunch; one apt for ‘stealing the movie.’
“I don’t like that expression,” Richardson told indieWIRE while in New York in anticipation of the film’s release on November 19. “I think it has bad vibes. Hopefully you go in and tell the story the way it should be told. And you know, it’s the best business in the world; to be part of storytelling. Fantastic.”
Richardson has been telling stories on screen since the early 1980s, garnering acclaim and awards over the course of her career for turns as varied as IRA terrorist Jude O’Hara in Neil Jordan’s “The Crying Game” to the scheming Duchess of Kent in Jean-Marc Vallee’s “The Young Victoria.” As a Bristol Old Vic Theatre School graduate where she studied alongside Daniel Day-Lewis, Richardson has nurtured a tendency to put a lot of preparation into any given role, and Castle was no exception.
To match the politician’s rapid fire speech pattern, Richardson worked extensively with a dialect coach prior to shooting, and watched clips of Castle delivering speeches. She also devoured a biography of her, and studied a slew of photographs to get a feel for the refined look Castle cultivated over the course of her career.
“I think it’s all important,” said Richardson with regards to finding the character through her costume, hair and makeup. “It’s external but it helps the internal processes fall into place. She was pretty simple, pretty neat. Everyday she was a stickler. She had her hair done, she had her nails done. She was right on the image thing. You couldn’t get away, particularly as a woman, with appearing unkept at all. I like to think that was Barbara’s time when she was in the hairdresser. That was her time for her.”
Much like Castle, Richardson worked for the most part with men while on set for her ten day “Dagenham” shoot. The film takes place mostly in Dagenham, a large suburb in east London, and chronicles the struggle a group of women working at the Ford Dagenham assembly plant go through in order to attain equal pay. Richardson’s Castle pops up throughout the film to check in on the ladies’ progress, and in the end plays a pivotal role in their eventual success. The climactic scene in the film, in which Castle meets with the women to discuss their conditions, marked the only time Richardson shot opposite actors of her own sex.
“I didn’t get to do any of the fun bonding,” said Richardson. “I was actually quite nervous when I came to the scene with them. I saw them in the makeup trailer, then it was a bit like being in a boxing ring without the violence. They had been working together for five weeks. I remember going, ‘I think Barbara Castle felt this way as well.'”
Despite only sharing brief screen time with her female co-stars, Richardson said she had great fun on set working opposite her two incompetent male undersecretaries, played by Joseph Kloska and Miles Jupp. In the film however, Castle is prone to doll out speeches, and for those lengthy segments, Richardson admitted to feeling quite alone on set.
“There was a lot of laughing around on set,” said Richardson, “but then it was like, ‘Oh, now I have to do my speech. I was very enmeshed in it while doing it. I felt like I had a duty to her, because she means a lot to so many people. I just tried to get it right.”
Judging from the critical accolades her performance has garnered since its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, Richardson did Castle justice. Which leads to the inevitable question: what does Richardson make of the awards buzz surrounding her performance and the film?
“No comment,” Richardson said with a chuckle. “It’s like a lottery. I want to work. I want to carry on working. So any help anyone can give me, that would be great.”