Running Time: 106 minutes
Written by: Gaby Chiappe and Rebecca Frayn
Directed by: Philippa Lowthorpe
Featuring: Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, Keeley Hawes, Phyllis Logan, Lesley Manville, Rhys Ifans and Greg Kinnear
Sally Alexander: [speaking on TV about The Miss World Competition] “The only other forum in which participants are weighed, measured and publicly examined before being assigned their value is a cattle market.”
Coming soon (hopefully) to a cinema near you is the English based and produced “Misbehaviour” (2020), a drama with comic overtones that brings to light a period in 1970 when a women’s movement staged a live on air protest at the Miss World contest, which attempted to highlight how mass audiences viewed women, especially men but also how other women saw themselves not only in the public arena but also within their own lives. All of these aspects are highlighted by the relationships within the movie as well as how the media uses and is used to push one agenda while ignoring another. “Misbehaviour” brings together a very good high profile cast, gives them all room to breathe with their own stories that link up to the main narrative but is a little let down by some formulaic writing as well as uninspired direction which means this is a movie that, like so many British stories that are produced each year could get a little lost, which is a shame as this is not only an eye opening story but illustrates clearly that the idea of a movement based around women still is not only viable but is needed.
It’s remarkable the seeming ease that the British Film Industry is able to produce great independent drama, comedies and horror movies each and every year. Not only that, but the talent on show always seems to be original as well as first class. What many of these English films have in common is that they are based around something unique or have some kind of gimmick, this new movie “Misbehaviour” has both of those, but feels like it is stretched too thin to actually make the impact it should. While it is an ensemble with a large group of characters, the narrative itself feels rushed with so much plot to cram in when the actual event takes place it feels like an afterthought with a part of the story, a court case, that is never seen, which to me feels like a big part of the real life story. This movie has much in common with many of the British movies produced over the past twenty years, it has some well known actors that could all carry their own movies, it has a concentration of on location production, is based on a very English story and most often has relatively inexperienced writers and directors. What is healthy to see with “Misbehaviour” is that it is a feminist narrative that has been directed and co-written by women who are not newcomers with some experience in large productions.
Written by Gaby Chiappe and Rebecca Frayn and directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, this movie is very well executed with a bit of a sprawling narrative which encompasses a very large cast, so it is difficult for a real feeling of a solid story, it seems like as an audience we are moving all over the place even though there are only a few locales we actually visit which also for me is a little claustrophobic. It takes a real skill to not only balance a narrative, but also a large cast as well as a really important message, giving respect to real people without making them cyphers, offering real insight in a visual medium. One thing that all of these characters have are moments when they have to explain why what is happening is important, which becomes a little tiring, there for me are too many points of view. This is a very left movie which indicates why in some respect we see a movement against a very disjointed point of view. I mean this is a movie that not only attempts to comment on feminism but also racism, the mass media, sexism, colonialism and a host of other ideas that make for a messy narrative. Experience would help hone the themes as well as bringing the narrative together, however both writers and directors do a very good job.
“Misbehaviour” is based around the 1970 Miss World competition which took place in London, hosted by the US comedian Bob Hope. Arguing that beauty competitions objectify women, the newly formed women’s liberation movement achieved overnight fame by invading the stage and disrupting the live broadcast of the competition. The plot as I have stated is actually simple and is carried off well, this is however all about the narrative and themes which are mostly carried off well.
This is a movie with a stellar cast led by Keira Knightley who shares the screen with some other fantastic actors, this is not a new kind of role for her as she has been playing character parts a lot over the past decade, she knows exactly the performance required and has great chemistry with relative newcomer Jessie Buckley, who again shines in a limited role. In support there are numerous actors to point out but the other standouts for me are the always great Lesley Manville as Bob Hopes long suffering wife, who in a small role makes an impact with only a few lines and Greg Kinnear as the aforementioned Hope, who does not imitate but hones an unmistakeable performance as the legend. Finally Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the contestant from Grenada really underplays her role to amazing effect, for me stealing the movie from everyone else.
All in all while “Misbehaviour” is not the perfect movie it is very well executed with a message that is highlighted by the protest at the Miss World pageant which could have been a lot longer or presented in a much more visceral way. It would have also been beneficial to see the court case or at least how it was handled by those involved. As with many based on real events movies there are always titles in the conclusion to show what happened to some of those involved, which is always a nice epilogue. In this case we see the actual people involved in a modern contact with an all too brief title saying what they went on to accomplish. There are also real photographs in the end titles of the real people as well as some priceless footage of the organiser of the Miss World show. I would recommend this highly, it is a fun movie with a very real message that is bolstered by some excellent performances.