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Made In Dagenham, Nigel Cole, 117 mins (15)<br/>Buried, Rodrigo Cortes, 94 mins (15)<br/>The Secret of Kells, Tomm Moore, 78 mins (PG)

The latest feelgood Brit-flick manages to make an inspiring story feel formulaic and cheesy

Reviewed,Nicholas Barber
Sunday 03 October 2010 00:00 BST
(Imagenet )

The trouble with Made In Dagenham, the latest feel-good Brit-caper from the director of Calendar Girls, is that it's based on a true story, but not much of it rings true.

It's set in 1968, when the 187 female employees of Ford's Dagenham plant – the fourth largest car factory in the world – went on strike for salaries equivalent to those of their male counterparts, thereby helping to precipitate the 1970 Equal Pay Act. In the film's version of events, the women are initially just peeved about being reclassified from "semi-skilled" to "unskilled", and they don't consider the broader issue of gender equality until it's spelt out for them by an avuncular union rep, Bob Hoskins. He then persuades Sally Hawkins to lead the industrial action, even though she's never shown any interest in politics. It's a strangely anti-feminist angle for a film about the women's movement to take, and I doubt the reality was quite so simple.

The progress of the strike seems suspiciously straightforward, too. Apart from sleeping with the grocer in exchange for extra cauliflowers, the women don't have to do anything except keep their chins up until the world comes round to their point of view, so the screenwriter is forced to pad out the story with the same old plot points as in Calendar Girls and The Full Monty.

After a bright and breezy opening, we come to the family pressures (embodied by Hawkins's husband, Daniel Mays), the internal divisions (Geraldine James wants to tend to her shellshocked husband, while Jaime Winstone wants to be a model), and the unlikely ally (Rosamund Pike, the plant manager's upper-crust wife), before we arrive at the big, emotive speech that saves the day. In fact, almost every scene finishes with a speech which seems designed to win a round of applause. And the Swinging Sixties period details – beehives, Biba, Berni Inns and Blue Nun – seem likewise to be lifted from other films rather than real life. In some scenes, Austin Powers must have been just off-camera.

It's still a chirpy, optimistic comedy. Hawkins is much more human than the screenplay allows, and there's the incidental pleasure of seeing Miranda Richardson as Barbara Castle and John Sessions doing a Harold Wilson impression. It's also fairly radical for a contemporary film to be so squarely on the side of strikers. But Made In Dagenham is as much of a production-line creation as the Cortinas which the heroines are being underpaid to assemble. Surely a film about some plucky underdogs beating the odds shouldn't feel as calculated as a Hollywood blockbuster.

Last week's Frozen had three people stranded in a chairlift halfway up a mountain. They had it easy. In the similarly starkly titled Buried, our unlucky hero, Ryan Reynolds, is trapped in a wooden crate, six feet under the surface of an Iraqi desert, and for 90 minutes the viewer sees nothing but what he can see by the light of a flickering Zippo, a faulty torch, and a mobile phone. Reynolds, we learn, is a civilian truck driver who has been kidnapped by insurgents, and they won't dig him up unless he uses the phone, with its weak signal and fading battery, to secure a ransom. Never has it been quite so frustrating to get voicemail or to be put on hold.

The film comments on the way the United States government and corporations neglect their employees, but at bottom it's a Hitchcockian technical exercise to see how much action and how many camera angles can fit into such a confined space. And because the situation is so contrived – there's no reason for the kidnappers to bury their captive in the first place – there are times when you're thinking less about how Reynolds can survive, and more about how the writer and director can sustain the drama.

Over all, though, they've done a remarkable job of keeping Buried dynamic and frightening, but also plaintive and blackly funny, without any cheating: there are no flashbacks or cuts to the outside world, and no supporting characters except voices on a phone. Reynolds deserves immense credit, then, for carrying the film single-handedly, maintaining a delicate balance between movie-star twinkle and everyman terror in what must have been a severely uncomfortable role. Buried would make a tremendous double-bill with Lebanon, which was, up until now, this year's most claustrophobia-inducing drama set in a Middle-East war zone.

The Secret of Kells is an Irish cartoon which was nominated for the Best Animated Feature award at this year's Oscars, and it's an enchanting alternative to 3D computer-animation. Set in the ninth century, its young hero is learning how to illuminate manuscripts so he can complete the wondrous Book of Kells, but his uncle, a stern abbot voiced by Brendan Gleeson, is more concerned with fortifying the town against Viking raiders. The story wafts in too many different directions before dissipating altogether, but the film is still a treat, thanks to its stylised, kaleidoscopic artwork, which is like a cross between an Asterix book and a stained glass window. Don't keep it a secret.

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Next Week:

Nicholas Barber sees if Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a sequel worth waiting 22 years for

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