sat 24/10/2020

Misbehaviour review - crowd-pleaser tackles Seventies sexism | reviews, news & interviews

Misbehaviour review - crowd-pleaser tackles Seventies sexism

Misbehaviour review - crowd-pleaser tackles Seventies sexism

Keira Knightley and Gugu Mbatha-Raw star in a beauty pageant comedy

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Miss Grenada in Misbehaviour

Created in the mould of Made in Dagenham and Pride, Philippa Lowthrope offers up a cheery, kitschy British comedy centred around the 1970 Miss World Contest that was disrupted by feminist protests. 

Created in the mould of Made in Dagenham and Pride, Philippa Lowthrope offers up a cheery, kitschy British comedy centred around the 1970 Miss World Contest that was disrupted by feminist protests. 

Leading this crowd-pleaser are Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Jesse Buckley. Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe divide their screenplay across the trio, but the central perspective is that of Knightley’s character Sally Alexander. As a young mum trying to make it as a mature student, her battles with the prevailing patriarchy are given a stiff kick when she meets Buckley’s Jo Robinson. She’s a working-class feminist who isn’t willing to conform to society’s rules, living in a commune with like-minded, weed-smoking, women who want to show the establishment that they’ve had enough. They want to convince Alexander that a more demonstrative approach is required if she wants to actively change society. 
Kiera Knightley as Sally Alexander Pushing aside the concerns of her middle-class mum (Phyliss Logan), Alexander’s initial reluctance to Robinson’s radical approach gives way as they plan a protest at a Miss World pageant due to take place in London. 

The contest is governed by the vulgar Eric Morley, played by Rhys Ifans, (think Sid James in Carry On Girlsminus the dirty cackle). He convinces Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) to return to host the proceedings which, even by the standards of the 1970s, are tacky beyond words.

Enter Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who gives a warm, dignified performance as Jennifer Hosten, the entry for Miss Grenada. Hosten doesn’t exactly agree with the sexual politics of the show, but knows that behind the sexism there’s a chance for a woman of colour to get some representation. Sadly, Mbatha-Raw is given short shrift compared to the other two leads, but what screen time she does have pops. In a scene with Knightley, she points out to Alexander that, for all her forward thinking, she should consider what it might mean for a woman of colour to have her moment in the sun. 

Misbehaviour’s greatest weakness is its admirable effort to cover as much ground as possible, but at the expense of dramatic action. In the #MeToo age, Misbehaviour feels a little too comfortable. Protest and identity politics has had its corners rounded off, replaced by a gentle humour aiming for broad appeal. There’s little righteous anger, and what there is feels a bit too safe.

That said, Misbehaviour is an incredibly satisfying watch and highlights a wonderful moment in British history where a group of heroic women gathered together and said, ‘Enough!’ The fact it’s delivered with the broadest possible audience in mind might not be such a bad thing after all.

@JosephDAWalsh

There’s little righteous anger, and what there is feels a bit too safe.

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters