Made in Dagenham - Miranda Richardson
Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson) © 2010 Sony Pictures

In Miranda Richardson’s career, she has been seen in such diverse movies as The Young Victoria, Fred Claus, Paris Je T’aime, Southland Tales, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Enchanted April, The Phantom of the Opera and The Crying Game.

In her new movie Made in Dagenham she portrays Barbara Castle, the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity in England in 1968, when the 187 women at the Ford Motor Company in Dagenham, UK, went on strike for equal pay. It was a strike that shut the plant down, leading to a meeting with Barbara Castle, one of their staunch allies, who in the strikers sees women after her own heart.

Can you talk a little about Barbara Castle?

Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson) © 2010 Sony Pictures

I play one of the few absolutely real life characters in the film, Barbara Castle, the MP (Member of Parliament) who had the very bright idea, because the country was being brought to its knees, of meeting the women on her territory, talking to them, woman to woman, and finding out what they needed, and trying to get the country back to work and also, at the same time, have the chance to carry on with the cause which was very dear to her heart, which was equality.

How much research did you do into Barbara Castle?

I didn’t have a huge amount of time, I just said to the producers, ‘Give me anything you’ve got.’ I said, ‘Anything visual would be really helpful.’ So they sent me a couple of clips of her doing press meetings. I said I would like to work with a dialect coach, because there’s a responsibility when you’re playing somebody in real life. It was a hell of a responsibility because she means so much to a lot of people, she still does. Her legacy lives on, and without her the Equal Pay Act wouldn’t have come into play for who knows how long. So thank God for her, thank God for the timing, thank God for her imagination and humanity. She was a fabulous woman.

Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson) © 2010 Sony Pictures

In the silence of reading about her and looking at photographs, staring at them and trying to make them sink in, I just thought she was the most wonderful woman and would have loved to have met her and gone out on the town with her. I think she would have been enormous fun.

Unlike these ladies, debate was encouraged around her dinner table at a very early age. She went with her father to rallies and she understood where people were coming from, what they wanted and how they expressed themselves. She was passionate. She brought herself up out of her class and achieve above and beyond what was expected and never lost touch with her roots.

She was a force of nature as far as I’m concerned. She was fantastic. She was somebody who could drink and smoke and wanted to engage and expected people to engage with her. Thank God she was around. She loved women and men equally.

What personally did you pull from her that you related to?

Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson), Rita (Sally Hawkins), Connie (Geraldine James), Sandra (Jaime Winstone) and Brenda (Andrea Riseborough) © 2010 Sony Pictures

I think it just makes you want to be more authentic in your every day life. That’s how she inspired me. Nowadays in politics, in life, we’re so used to so much spin, and she seemed incapable of doing that. She had a great sense of humor. She was juicy, so any and all of those things are things I want to keep with me.

Was this film like a hen party, because there are so many women?

Well, I didn’t have the benefit of working with the rest of the ladies. They’d been working for about five weeks before I did my part. I was quite nervous meeting the girls, because there’s all this energy coming into the room. I’m sure Barbara Castle felt nervous (meeting the real women), saying, ‘What exactly am I going to say? How am I going to treat these ladies? They mustn’t be talked down to. Will they accept me as an equal?’ All those things were going on.

It was a lovely atmosphere on the set. And there were quite a few women on the crew as well, which always makes my heart leap. There’s no reason why women don’t do these jobs, they are letting more and more women in and more women want to take those jobs in the industry.

The movie moves nicely between comedy and drama, can you talk about both aspects?

I guess it’s in the writing. For my part I just thought Barbara’s speeches were very authentic and I wasn’t thinking funny on the day. It’s situation comedy, so you don’t have to act funny.

There’s a lot of Oscar buzz surrounding your performance.

Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson) and Rita (Sally Hawkins) © 2010 Sony Pictures

No comment, as they say in the press.

What would you like audiences to come away with when they see this?

I think they will feel very uplifted by the power of an individual of a sympathetic bunch of people. It’s the ‘can do’ kind of theory. Life doesn’t have to be so bad, it can be changed, you can change it; you can affect change and pass on all this good stuff to the younger generation. I hope people will bring their sons and daughters to this film.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane