'Misbehaviour' is a thoroughly important and enjoyable history lesson.
Cut short of empowering Box Office bonanza by the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘Misbehaviour’ (2020) follows a string of recent cinematic releases coming home early for digital viewing. It’s a shame Philippa Lowthorpe’s dramatisation of the 1970 Miss World contest and the Women’s Liberation protests that disrupted it didn’t have time to make a bang for your buck (it opened in cinemas just a week before the lockdown began). Like ‘Military Wives’ (2020), this feminist feelgood flick had all the makings of a bonafide cult hit that would’ve been a belter night-out for flocks of women going to see it in groups - albeit with slightly chewier results than Peter Cattaneo’s choral comedy drama.
I like ‘Misbehaviour’ for a number of reasons. Not least because it looks gorgeous - an aspartame-soaked flour bomb of a production that shares some of the 20th century pizazz of David O. Russell’s ‘American Hustle’ (2013). I wasn't a huge fan of that movie, but ‘Misbehaviour’ similarly wins points for capturing the fantastical flavour and fashion of the 70s in all its bad hair, tiaras and mini-skirts.
Anything featuring the world’s most famous or infamous beauty pageant is going to have to look beautiful and the film laces its competition with marbled floors, gold curtains and colourful swim-suits. Never has Miss World appeared so spick and spam and yet ‘Misbehaviour’ is keen to remind audiences of the darkness behind the glitz and glam. Something personified by Greg Kinnear who plays lechery himself as Miss World host and chauvinistic comedian Bob Hope.
Scenes of the character making smooching gestures out of car windows and announcing to a packed auditorium that he considers “feeling women all the time” will have hands thrown up in horror at the fact such borderline sexual harassment was quite so acceptable back in the day. Despite the 70s setting, what makes it more chilling is quite how contemporary this all feels in the #MeToo era. All the more modern too is a live TV debate featuring Keira Knightley’s Women’s Lib activist Sally Alexander chastising pro-Miss World male debaters for being free of the skin-deep beauty constraints faced by women. “Why should any woman have to earn her place in the world by looking a particular way? You don’t! He doesn’t! Why should we?” she preaches; raising tantalising questions about the pressures placed upon women in the Instagram-obsessed world of the 21st century to conform to the media’s standard of beauty.
All this cruel modernism makes ‘Misbehaviour’ sound terribly didactic which it isn’t in the slightest. This is a hugely accessible film and that can be put down to the talents of its highly recognizable cast - a giant, gleaming guest list of the best on British screens. Keira Knightley, Keeley Hawes, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lesley Manville, Jessie Buckley...There’s too much talent to name!
A strong contender for feminist feelgood flick of the year, I would encourage everyone to watch ‘Misbehaviour. It’s not only enormous fun which we could all do with in these tumultuous times, but a thoroughly important history lesson destined for repeat viewings in the years to come.
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Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
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