Author: Billy Ivory
Writer’s Potential: 7
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The women work in a hot, filthy, windowless assembly line. Most of the girls work in their underwear to avoid the heat of their overalls. Rita wears hers to protect the fancy dress she’s opted to wear today, because of a meeting after work. The girls spend their days hand-sewing vinyl onto car seats. Some time during the day, their union rep, ALBERT, arrives to tell them that management has not responded to the women’s complaint about being labeled “unskilled” — a move that has caused their pay to go down. Albert takes a show of hands of who wants to take action and who doesn’t. All 187 women want to fight this.
After work, Rita rides to Graham’s school and speaks with his TEACHER, a young, long-haired type. He tells her that Graham has fallen behind, which Rita attributes to a bully stealing his homework. The Teacher denies any bullying and makes a strong case for the problem being Graham’s. He’s a poor kid on scholarship, so the Teacher doesn’t believe he has the right work ethic for his studies. The Teacher’s insults devastate Rita so much that, after leaving, she has to stop herself and bawl. A passing woman, LISA, recognizes Rita’s pain and offers to help. Rita tells her to piss off. When Rita comes home, Eddie asks how the meeting went, and Rita responds with a bright smile, saying the Teacher will look into the bullying.
The next day, during lunch, Albert approaches the girls to tell them how management respond to their threat of striking. He said they acted shocked but the three in charge agreed to meet with Albert. Albert’s bringing Connie — the oldest and most respected of the women — and MONTY, another union rep, but he wants a fourth so they have more people on their side than management does. Albert talks Rita into going. At headquarters, they’re kept waiting by PETER HOPKINS and his cronies, GRANT and JONES. Monty does most of the talking on behalf of the union, but he’s self-interested and doesn’t care much about the women. Management steamrolls over all of them — until Rita gets fed up and starts defending herself and all the other woman, illustrating how their job takes skill (among other things, employees are required to take a test to do the job). Management is taken aback by her passion, but they won’t budge. So Rita reaffirms Albert’s original plan for a one-day work stoppage and a ban on overtime.
After the meeting, Albert congratulates Rita on her success. Connie, meanwhile, is a little annoyed. Albert’s plan will cause them to lose more money than the pay cut alone. Meanwhile, new employment secretary BARBARA CASTLE implores her secretaries to explain why strikes have crippled the U.K. over the past year. The secretaries stare blankly. The next day, Rita and Connie make protest signs. The women gather in the center of town for the protest, but it doesn’t seem to have much effect — everyone in town works at the factory, so nobody’s driving past to see their numbers or their signs. Meanwhile, American Ford executive BOBBY TOOLEY calls Hopkins, asking about this strike. He suggests handling them the same way they do with the men, with a tiny incentive that they make seem huge.
That afternoon, George arrives to pick up Connie in his old, WWII-era RAF uniform. It’s their anniversary, so he’s treating her to dinner. The others think it’s as good a time as any to break up the protest. Albert finds Rita at the bus stop, telling her he’s surprised they protested for so long. He could never get the men to stay as long as the women. Albert tries to talk Rita into leading a full-time, lengthy strike until Ford gives in and pays the women the same thing they pay men. Rita’s unsure of it, so Albert tells her to sleep on it. Rita goes to Graham’s school to pick him up. She runs into Lisa, who reintroduces herself and explains that their kids have the same teacher — and they’re both being bullied, and the Teacher’s blaming the kids and the parents instead of stopping it. Lisa asks Rita to sign a petition against him. Rita does. Lisa gives Rita and Graham a ride home. Rita talks to Eddie about the possibility of her getting more involved in the strike. Eddie plays off the necessity of continuing to strike, but Rita believes in it. Eddie says he’ll encourage her as long as she can keep up her other responsibilities around the house.
The next day, the women are back at work. They all receive letters from management. Rita ask Monty about the hostile tone of them, but Monty insists it’s standard protocol — it’s the rules. The idea that a strike has rules, like a game, enrages Rita. She calls for an immediate and extended work stoppage until they receive equal pay. All the women agree to it. Monty is horrified. So is Hopkins, when Monty reports the news. Albert consults with the other union bosses, who don’t want to support this strike because it draws focus away from their main objective — The Communist Party. A montage shows the girls striking and getting a lot of press for it. Soon enough, Tooley is sent to the U.K. to deal with the problem. Barbara Castle tells Prime Minister HAROLD WILSON that she wants to talk with these girls and resolve the strike. Instead, Wilson recommends they have a well-known Parliament member negotiate with both sides.
When the women find out about this, they protest Parliament, brandishing a huge sign that, when initially unfurled, reads “WE WANT SEX.” Completely unrolled, it reads “WE WANT SEX EQUALITY.” Rita is interviewed by TV reporters about the strike. Eddie talks about it with Chalkie and George. Humorless George tells Eddie to make Rita stop the strike. It’s gone on too long. Eddie defends Rita, but George says he and Connie can’t afford to live on his military pension alone. Meanwhile, Rita goes to other Ford plants to recruit their female workers to the strike. Eddie’s forced to take over the domestic duties, doing a poor job of cooking food for the disappointed kids. Hopkins brings Tooley to his home for dinner. Hopkins’s wife is Lisa, and he forces her to cook dinner for himself and Tooley. Lisa, who studied history at Cambridge, uses historical precedents to justify the strike. Hopkins belittles her, and Tooley ignores her. The following day, Tooley blackmails Monty into convincing the women to break up the strike.
Monty has girls striking on Ford property arrested for trespassing, while Tooley and Hopkins arrive to play heroes, sending away the police and announcing it doesn’t have to get ugly if they just call off the strike. Rita shows up just as reporters surround the women — and frail, unstable George. Things have gotten too hectic, so she announces that the strike will continue, but they won’t meet again in public for two weeks. She tells Tooley to mind his own business. He’s shocked. Graham, bruised and beaten, limps home, passing George. George treats Graham nicely and offers to walk him home. Once there, Graham realizes he dropped the key, and there’s nobody to let him in. That afternoon, Rita creates phone sheets so the girls can keep in touch without congregating. Meanwhile, Ford is forced to shut down U.K. operations because they’ve run out of their stores of finished products from the women. That night, Eddie comes home and sees George and Graham waiting on the porch, and he flies into a fury. When Rita finally comes home, they get into an argument about her failing the children. Late at night, George has a nightmare about the war. He wakes with a start and begins verbally abusing Connie about the strike.
Rita realizes they’re just about out of money, and now Eddie’s been laid off — along with 5000 other men — because of Ford’s inability to continue production without women. She goes to Connie for moral support but is instead assaulted with an angry Connie’s words. In the end, Connie still supports the strike, but she adamantly refuses to help. She needs to stay home and support George. The girls meet at Brenda’s house. Sandra announces they’ve cut off the power at her place. Rita assures her it’s according to plan, and the group try to pool what little money they have to support everyone. However, with the men laid off, too, none of them have much to spare. Rita picks up Sharon from a babysitter’s house. Sharon hands Rita a note, from Sandra’s mother. Rita is horrified by what she’s read and asks the babysitter to keep an eye on Sharon for a few minutes. She can’t, so Rita drags Sharon to the Ford plant…where they find Sandra on the assembly line, working alone, weeping. Tooley and Hopkins, meanwhile, have arranged for a photographer to show her working. Rita interrupts them and drags Sandra away. Tooley threatens Rita by saying if they can break one, they can break them all. Sandra confesses she has a child out of wedlock, and Tooley threatened to go to the press with that and a series of semi-erotic bikini photos Sandra modeled for.
Just as Rita’s about to give up, Lisa shows up at her house. She announces she’s Hopkins’s wife and talks about how she’s constantly belittled and mistreated by her husband, despite her education. She urges Rita to keep fighting, because she’s making the history Lisa loved to study. As soon as Lisa leaves, Rita starts to bawl. Barbara Castle discusses with her secretaries the possibility of meeting Rita. They tell her it’s never been done — it’s not protocol. Castle yells that when protocol stops working, you have to adjust to something that will work. She demands that they set up the meeting. However, the other women tell Rita they want to give up. She has an impossible time rallying the troops, especially with Connie gone. Rita goes to visit Connie, but she’s in mourning — George has died. Later, Albert tells Rita about Monty’s plan to address all the union bosses and totally undermine the women’s strike. He thinks Rita needs to speak on behalf of the women. At George’s funeral, Rita pays her condolences to Connie, but Connie acidly blames Rita for his death.
As Rita prepares to interrupt Monty’s speech, Eddie follows her to the bus stop and starts yelling at her for letting down the family. Rita argues that Eddie is no better than she is — rather than picking up her slack, he’s just letting the family go. She also tells Eddie that she’s fighting for the family — for decent wages and for the women of the next generation. Women have a right to receive equal pay. Eddie’s taken aback by her passion. Meanwhile, Tooley learns of Castle’s plan to meet with the women. He calls, demanding a meeting of his own. Eddie takes the kids to the babysitter and speeds off to the hotel in Weymouth where Monty is meeting the union bosses. The women interrupt and undermine Monty, who doesn’t want to relinquish the floor until the union bosses force him to sit down. Eddie arrives in the middle of Rita’s speech. Rita explains that, for as long as women have worked, it’s been portrayed as fair that they earn less than men for the same work. She argues with gusto that it’s not fair, and they should not be punished based on gender. The bosses — all men — cheer for her. Albert arrives after the speech to say they got a call from Castle’s office about setting up a meeting.
On the beach outside the hotel, Eddie apologizes to Rita, admitting he realizes now how important what she’s accomplishing is. The next day, Rita goes to Hopkins’s house to ask a favor of Lisa. Meanwhile, Tooley meets with Castle. He enters her office with a snide smile. The door closes for a beat, then reopens. Tooley exits, color drained from his face. Rita walks through town in Lisa’s expensive, fashionable dress. Eddie picks the kids up from the babysitter. They drive to Castle’s offices in a show of support. A bus carrying Rita and the other women drives across town to Castle’s offices, passing by Tooley along the way. He watches them, defeated.
As Rita and the women make their way past the throng of reporters outside Castle’s offices, Connie arrives. She apologizes to Rita for what she said at the funeral. They walk into the building together. Rita wanders off to the bathroom, but she gets lost on her way back and ends up in Castle’s private office. Castle admires Rita’s dress. Rita notes that Castle dressed down, wearing a cheap old thing that Rita has. Rita wonders who has the advantage. Castle is delighted by Rita’s personality. She asks her secretary to lead in the other women. They negotiate, and Rita is tough as nails — she won’t back down until Castle agrees that equal pay is a basic human right, and she guarantees they’ll have it within a year. As Castle and Rita walk out of the offices together, Castle announces to reporters that the women will be going back to work, making 92% of the male rate. She’ll soon get the ball rolling on legislation that will require it to be 100%. A title announces that the Equal Pay Act became law in 1975.
A massive sea of people — both men and women — return to the deserted factory, ready to return to their jobs.
The first job does an excellent job of introducing the characters, setting, and central conflict in both the story (the strike) and the protagonist (Rita’s early inability to stand up for herself in the face of men). The second act could have easily continued with the lighthearted comedy of the first, but the writer digs deep and shows the true impact a strike can have, both financially and emotionally. The script never loses its wit or charm, but it also doesn’t shy away from illustrating the difficulties suffered by everyone affected by the strike. The third act has moments of sentimentality and preachiness, but not in an obnoxious, pandering way. They’ll be more likely to cause an audience to cheer than to roll their eyes.
The writer makes Rita’s transition from meek employee/wife to passionate advocate of workers’ rights an interesting, complex emotional journey. He adds similar complexity to the relationship with Eddie, whose unintentional chauvinism sparks some of the script’s more intense moments. The supporting characters all have sprinklings of subtlety and depth — with the notable exception of the villains, all of whom are a little over-the-top in their sexism and greed. Hopkins, who married an educated woman, could have been an interesting window into more complicated feelings about the strike from the management side, but that’s a missed opportunity.
Nonetheless, this script has a crowd-pleasing cheerfulness that will make even its most dramatic moments easy to digest. Its “working class versus corporate greed” story will resonate with audiences, given current worldwide economic problems.
Posted by D. B. Bates on April 25, 2009 2:33 PM