Cast: Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, Rhys Ifans and Greg Kinnear.
Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe
Written by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe
Philippa Lowthorpe’s ‘Misbehaviour’ documents the chaotic events surrounding the 1970 Miss Universe competition held in London. A fiercely important story for the Women’s Liberation Movement paralleled with a fight for racial equality. The audience follow two activists, Sally Alexander (Knightley) and Jo Robinson (Buckley) as they put their own differences aside to fight for the change they want to see; but we are also given insight to the the view of the competitors. Screenwriters Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe present a variety of “feminist” positions without confidently stating their own and though some have criticised this, I think that the film encourages it’s viewers to go on a journey with all of the characters and develop their own standpoint.
As is true with many films based on real events, it’s difficult to judge how much should have been included. To take on two (arguably three) main storylines does present challenges and I think it’s particularly difficult in this situation. There’s some brilliantly important moments in this story that highlight massive issues surrounding racism in 1970, not just in England but globally, and this movie draws some attention to this but due to the compact nature of focal events of the film, it feels like it gets sidelined. While the main narrative of the story focuses on the movements of Ms Alexander and Ms Robinson, we get that small glimpse inside the competition. To see the shift of allowing the first black South African contestant and, significantly, where 1970 also saw saw Grenada’s Jennifer Hosten (the formidable Gugu Mbatha-Raw) become the first black Miss World.
Generally I think this is an easy watch. It’s entertaining, it keeps moving and it highlights several important issues. The performances of Keira Knightley and Jessie Buckley were great; although portraying very different people, they come across with a united strength which fits the narrative and I imagine the real life people behind their characters. Gugu Mbatha-Raw delivers a really strong performance, the quiet strength of her character, draped in the grace and elegance of a beauty queen is an enticing combination that really captures the audiences heart. She’s interesting to watch, the humanity of her situation, steely determination and utter desire to win this competition which was so important, not only to her but to a generation of young black girls, really stole the show for me.
Perhaps if it was a work of fiction some might find it a little dull, but in my opinion the truth behind the story keeps it interesting, particularly with the ending. It’s not a big blockbuster but an entertaining film with important truths behind the story.