It’s 1970 London, site of The Miss World pageant. The world is reeling from the Civil Rights movement, but for some the fight has just begun. The women’s liberation movement earned notoriety that year when they caused chaos at The Miss World Pageant. Phillipa Lowthorpe’s Misbehaviour recounts the story of this particular event which became known around the world. Misbehaviour takes an artful and earnest look at feminism and privilege.
Misbehaviour begins by examining the sexual politics prevalent in the 1970’s. Miss World should have very specific body measurements, be physically beautiful, and most importantly, she must be a virgin and well-behaved. More and more as groups begin to speak out about the sexism and misogyny, other flaws begin to go noticed in the pageant system. Rhys Ifans plays Eric Morley, creator of the Miss World Pageant, whose solution is to have not one but two black women in the pageant: Miss South Africa and Miss Grenada.
Outside of the pageant world, Sally Alexander, played by Keira Knightley, is dealing with her own troubles in the face of sexism and misogyny. She is a labor activist and while she keeps company with like-minded individuals, she finds her ideas constantly contested or overruled by men. She then finds kinship with a group of radical feminists looking for a fight. This sets the stage and tension for Misbehaviour.
Misbehaviour is filled with incredible performances. Keira Knightley is wonderful in her portrayal of a conflicted and frustrated Sally Alexander. Greg Kinnear plays Bob Hope, and you want to smack him in the face, which is a credit to his performance because he is truly wonderful in the role. Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Miss Grenada, a woman who is also at odds with herself, but is completely determined.
Written by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chappe, the most spectacular aspects of Misbehaviour come to light in the writing. Misbehaviour is filled with conversations of modernism versus old fashioned morality. What is sexism and by whose definition? What is racism and what is representation? Who gets to protest and who do the protests serve?
Misbehaviour takes a very nuanced look at issues still prevalent in today’s world. Excellent writing and a dynamic cast mark the film while elevating topics that promote critical thinking and discussion. Misbehaviour is playing at the Bentonville Film Festival.