Film Review – Misbehaviour

Misbehaviour (M)

Directed by: Philippa Lowthorpe

Starring: Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Greg Kinnear

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

It was one small step for a handful of women but one giant leap for woman-kind when a group of fed up feminists protested and picketed the televised 1970 Miss World competition, putting the women’s liberation movement firmly on the map.

When educated, divorced mother Sally Alexander (Keira Knightly) wants to go back to university, the only thing getting in the way of achieving her goal is a board of middle aged white men who question her life choices.

With a drive to secure herself “a seat at the (male dominated) table”, Sally joins a ragtag activist group lead by the scrappy but spirited Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley), who resorts to the occasional minor illegal activity to get her feminist message across.

Despite clashing over tactics, they agree nothing will amplify their message more than the televised 1970 Miss World competition, which is set to draw 100 million viewers worldwide and is being hosted by womanising comedian Bob Hope, whose jokes lean to the sexist side.

Armed with a fresh new slogan and self-designed posters, the group plan to infiltrate and hijack the event in front of a worldwide audience.

Meanwhile, Black competitors Jennifer Hosten – Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and last minute woman of colour inclusion for political purposes Pearl Jansen – Miss Africa South (Loreece Harrison) navigate the white world of pageantry.

Misbehaviour likes to play it safe; not quite cheeky enough, not challenging enough, the sexist behaviour not outrageous enough and the stakes not high enough – it is a very respectable, polite and digestible story about the women’s liberation movement.

To its credit, Misbehaviour wants to address all female points of view on this issue that is rife with interwoven political and social complexities and treat them as valid and with equality.

There are the Black contestants who endure the sexism to use the pageant as a career leg up, the blonde favourite to win who hates being treated like cattle, the scrappy feminist, the organised one with a young daughter to inspire, the older generation mother who enjoyed domestic life, the womaniser’s long suffering wife, and more – but it proves a lot for a 106 minute film.

We merely get snippets of motivation, character development and interactions, suggesting that perhaps a multiple episode arc in a limited series would have been more appropriate to allow each character to be explored deeper.

It even folds into the mix the privilege of the white protesters (and contestants), who are blissfully unaware that black women face more obstacles than they do. This isn’t brought to Sally’s attention until the climactic moments of the film when, in a distractingly contrived sequence, she finds herself face to face with surprise winner Miss Grenada.

Misbehaviour is dripping with goodwill and good intentions and covers a key part of the women’s liberation movement, it just leaves you wanting just that little bit more.

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