Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe.
Starring Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, Lesley Manville, Rhys Ifans. Greg Kinnear, Phyllis Logan, John Sackville, Keeley Hawes, Suki Waterhouse, Clara Rosager, Loreece Harrison, Kajsa Mohammar, Miles Jupp, Polly Kemp, Ruby Bentall, Lily Newmark, Maya Kelly, John Heffernan, Eileen O’Higgins, Amanda Lawrence, Katy Carmichael, Rupert Vansittart, Charlie Anson, Emma D’Arcy, Clarence Smith, Isis Hainsworth, Emma Corrin, Alexa Davies, Jojo Macari, Nicholas Nunn, Samuel Blenkin, Daniel Tiplady, and Stephen Boxer.
A group of women hatch a plan to disrupt the 1970 Miss World beauty competition in London.
Misbehavior is more layered than your standard film tackling the women’s liberation movement of the early 1970s. There’s Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley, doing more quality period piece work) who is fighting for equality by working her way up the ranks to join the boys club of a London University in hope that she will be able to curate history courses and other classes lecturing on female empowerment. Naturally, her older and predominantly white male counterparts see this as futile and niche.
Attending one of these classes is Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley, one of the strongest rising talents out there at the moment) alongside her tightknit group of friends that take a more radical approach to take the patriarchy down a peg. For starters, they don’t even have televisions as they believe the media is a mouthpiece to keep them in check. Rather than battle systemic oppression from the inside akin to Sally’s efforts, they would rather get the message out there by defacing public buildings, empowering artwork, and enraged but righteous attitudes.
At first, they clash and don’t necessarily see eye to eye in regards to each other’s approach to signal-boosting feminism, but as Sally comes to realize that her peers don’t actually take her seriously, she is pushed into joining forces with the rebels. Further igniting her flame is her young daughter at home, someone she wants to grow up admiring positive role models rather than settling for the housewife mentality that Sally’s mother (Phyllis Logan) insists is for the best providing a good life. It also doesn’t help that Sally’s mother views the Miss World beauty pageant as a harmless piece of entertainment, allowing her grandchild to put on some lipstick and play pretty; it’s a move that obviously rubs Sally the wrong way (and arguably the one that sets her off the most when it comes to changing the world) and yet another commentary on the unsettling tendencies society has to place importance of physical appearances on someone from a young age. For an even better movie on that subject, there’s a pretty good noncontroversial movie (at least to anyone with a working brain) on Netflix about that to check out!
With that little stinger out of the way, it’s also important to note that Misbehavior is just as interested in taking viewers inside the upcoming Miss World contest, doing it’s best in a small window to show how the women believe winning the contest can alter their lives, the performative wokeness coming from the likes of Rhys Ifans’ Eric Morley to get with the times and get a Black woman from South Africa in the show, an American competitor played by Suki Waterhouse hoping to take the prize, and most intriguingly, a contestant from Granada played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw who is not exactly a fan of what she’s doing but would like to emerge victorious to open up some doors for a potential broadcasting career. Those familiar with history are likely aware of who wins, and in a way having that knowledge while watching the film play out adds to the layers presented.
All characters are set to converge as Sally and Jo’s team of radical feminists decide to interrupt the live contest concurrently airing on national television. And while all of the men involved with putting together the show, from Eric to host Bob Hope (a sexist goof played by Greg Kinnear, that his own wife as played by Leslie Manville sees right through as a buffoon) are chauvinistic pigs. They try to lie through their teeth that the contest is not just about outward beauty, but nevertheless have a derrière camera in place for the judges. They are condemned, but there’s more focus on how taking over this contest could very well be detrimental to the actual women hoping to gain something from it even if they aren’t fully on board with the idea of the pageant existing.
That’s not to say anyone here is strongly written, although they certainly aren’t cardboard character cutouts. Misbehavior is determined to explore multiple sides of the movement and the Miss World contest itself that by the time the fiery women are storming the stage, it all transcends the familiar storytelling. As a whole, the experience definitely lacks a bit of edge, but director Philippa Lowthorpe (alongside writers Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe) rise above their TV movie backgrounds to tell a story that’s all roaring feminism without vilifying those participating in the contest; it’s concerned with studying all of these women to a certain extent and all the better for it. The end result might be slightly uneven and a bit lacking but nonetheless engaging with a wonderful ensemble. It knows the real enemy is not the beauty contestants and certainly not those looking to tip the patriarch scale, but the gross men objectifying all of the women around them.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com