Misbehaviour takes an interesting if unspectacular look at the 1970 Miss World competition.
The feminist movement isn’t something particularly new – it has been making headlines for decades now. Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, who has worked on Call the Midwife and The Crown, Misbehaviour is a feminist narrative revolving around the 1970 Miss World competition, which saw the first ever black winner crowned: Jennifer Hosten, Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The event was marked by controversy and protests from a nascent women’s movement due to its sexist attitudes. Lowthorpe’s film is told from three different viewpoints, with members of the Women’s Liberation Movement, the contestants themselves, and host Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear), a known womaniser, all receiving focus. With a female director, writers and producers, Misbehaviour‘s broader perspective allows for every character’s troubles to receive attention. The film is not interested in the swimsuits or the beauty, but the people.
There is a refreshing atmosphere to the narrative structure, able to make the personal challenges on all sides more relatable. Each of the women involved in the various subplots faces some kind of prejudice: whether campaigning for women’s rights, being shot down over their chosen dissertation topic, or, in the case of Miss South Africa, warned against discussing their home during the contest because of Apartheid.
Much of the behaviour on display at the pageants is deeply uncomfortable, whether that be passing comments on body measurements or extended looks at women’s behinds. Though such attitudes are still prevalent, it is clear that 2020 is far detached from this extent of toxicity. The stampede of photographers rushing up to the contestants makes for a distressing experience, making you want to shy away from the attack of flashing cameras on the screen. It is not hard to imagine what the women involved in the beauty contests might have felt behind all the smiles and glamour.
Typical of period cinema, we are informed about what the women got up to after the film’s events. The ending is quite sweet, but the performances are mixed. Keira Knightley’s Sally Alexander is a storming presence with complex motivations – the small touches here and there humanising her character are effective – while fellow activist Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley) is at times irritating with her one-size-fits-all philosophy. Mbatha-Raw is a standout as Miss Grenada, staying cool and collected during all the tumultuous incidents going on around her.
Misbehaviour, directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, is distributed in the UK by Pathe, certificate 12A. It is available to rent via Amazon, iTunes and other VOD platforms.