Misbehaviour: Keira Knightley and Jessie Buckley smash Seventies sexism

Review: The true story of the 1970 Miss World contest is mortifying viewing

Keira Knightley and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Misbehaviour. Photograph: Pathe

Film Title: Misbehaviour

Director: Philippa Lowthorpe

Starring: Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, Keeley Hawes, Phyllis Logan, Lesley Manville, Rhys Ifans, Greg Kinnear

Genre: Comedy

Running Time: 106 min

Fri, Mar 13, 2020, 05:00

   

A crowd-pleasing dramatisation of the Women’s Liberation Movement’s entertaining disruption of the 1970 Miss World contest, Misbehaviour pitches a mismatched group of fed-up women against Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear), the BBC, and Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans, having a ball) who founded the tacky British-based meat market alongside his wife Julia (Keeley Hawes). It’s just a great story, you wonder why nobody thought to make a movie before.

Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) is a history student who, at home, is scolded by her mum for not being womanly enough and at university is scolded for her “bit niche” proposed dissertation on women’s role in the labour movement. Jessie Buckley is Jo Robinson, a thrilling, leafleting powerhouse. While Jo and Sally scheme with other feminist activists, across town there are suspect dealings at the Commonwealth Club, as Grenada’s prime minister Eric Gairy is recruited on to the judging panel.

Working from a screenplay by Gaby Chiappe (Their Finest) and Rebecca Frayn (The Lady), Phillipa Lowthorpe’s comedy finds an interesting intersectional dimension in Jennifer Holsten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, stately, even during the swimsuit section), who, as Miss Grenada, was the first person of colour to win Miss World. 

The film is every bit as considerate and likeable as one might expect from the director of TV’s Call The Midwife and 2016’s Swallows and Amazons. If anything, it’s a little too polite for the subject matter. The best moments are the meaner ones: Eric Morley (Ifans) behaving like an arse; the appalling degradation of swimsuit scenes; and the long-suffering Dolores Hope (Keslie Manville) reminding her husband of the time he returned home from Miss World 1961 with the winner. 

Misbehaviour makes for especially mortifying viewing in a country where a two-day beauty pageant is still a ratings winner. Equality activists might like to pay close attention.