Film review: ‘MISBEHAVIOUR’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The comedy-tinged drama Misbehaviour depicts the events surrounding the 1970 Miss World telecast in London when feminist activists staged a protest that plunged the event – hosted by Bob Hope – into chaos.  The protests earned headlines around the world and put the women’s liberation movement on the map.  It also saw an unexpected result to the competition itself that brought to the forefront another vital issue.

The film centres on young single mother and history student, Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) whose burgeoning interest and involvement in feminism is at first academic.  It becomes more hands-on, though, when she joins an activist collective led by the very bolshie and streetwise Jo Robinson (Jesse Buckley).  Seeing the Miss World pageant as a cattle auction that valued women only for their physical appearance, the protestors decide to infiltrate it and voice their disapproval.

Set in 1970, the film attempts to immerse us in a range of the era’s volatile issues. As well as the women’s movement, it also touches on racism, civil rights, apartheid in South Africa and the Vietnam War. Still, with its generally amiable tone, perky score and occasional quirky characters, rather than a confronting examination of a tumultuous time, the film plays like many recent inspirational feel-good dramadies such as Pride or even The Full Monty. It does show, however, that political goals don’t always sit comfortably together even if they’re on the same side of the ideological fence.  While, for the mostly white protesters, the objectification of women is paramount, for a Grenadian and a black South African contestant, Miss World represents a chance to show non-white girls that they can compete on equal footing with white people.

Keira Knightley is typically good as the passionate but prim, middle-class Sally while Jesse Buckley once again displays the edgy and magnetic quality that has made her so memorable in recent films and in the current series of Fargo.   Particularly impressive is Gugu Mbatha Raw as Miss Grenada, Jennifer Hosten.  She gives a touching composure and dignity to a character struggling to deal with an alien white-dominated world.  Greg Kinnear, however, gives a decent but not riveting performance as Bob Hope.  While at times he depicts Hope as an old sleaze who makes sexist jokes at the pageant, he doesn’t do a complete hatchet job on Hope, mostly portraying him as an ageing star trying to deny his fading virility by bedding much younger women.  Ironically, almost stealing the film is Rhys Ifans as the founder of the Miss World pageant and event director Eric Morley.  In a performance that recalls Peter Cook, his eccentric (but based on end credits footage of the real Morley, accurate) turn is a comic highlight.

This likeable, if at times slow-moving, film doesn’t quite strike at the heart of patriarchy and white hegemony as potently as we might have wanted but it’s still and engaging entrée to important issues and a vital period in history.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Philippa Lowthorpe.

Release date: 12th Nov 2020.

Running time: 107 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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