- Emma Simmonds
- 10 March 2020
An all-star cast assembles for this righteous and well-judged take on the 1970 Miss World pageant protest
A plethora of female talent, and a few choice blokes, assemble for a spirited and sincere look at the circumstances surrounding the 1970 Miss World pageant. With feminist fury coming to a head, race relations making strides and dusty old stereotypes finally being questioned it's a juicy setting for a story.
Mad as hell and determined not to take it anymore, Keira Knightley plays aspiring historian and single mother Sally, a prim but committed activist brimming with articulate exasperation. She teams up with Jessie Buckley's commune-dwelling graffiti artist Jo to infiltrate the Miss World show – a demonstration that would attract ample attention, given that their target was, at that time, the most-watched TV broadcast on the planet. Gugu Mbatha-Raw brings a different perspective, playing Grenadian contestant Jennifer, whose skin colour makes her a rank outsider for the crown.
Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe (TV's Three Girls, Swallows and Amazons) and cast in the mould of Made in Dagenham, this commercial cockle-warmer is buoyed by its keen, if rather fantastical sense of solidarity – no matter their unsavoury associations, all the female characters (from Lesley Manville's take on Bob Hope's downtrodden wife Dolores, to founder Eric Morley's partner-in-crime Julia, played by Keeley Hawes) are imbued with decency and at least a flicker of sisterly pride. It's hugely helped, too, by a quite incredible ensemble; Mbatha-Raw brings so much pathos to Jennifer's prejudice-battling predicament it nearly sells you on the competition itself. Knightley is ideally employed and Buckley adds sparky, earthy value as she rocks a less pompous brand of feminism.
But it's the sense of balance demonstrated by screenwriters Rebecca Frayn (The Lady) and Gaby Chiappe (Their Finest) that most impresses; it's a film that acknowledges that women are not always fighting for the same things, and that even when we are disadvantaged as a whole, privilege exists within that, while upbringing and race play an enormous part in how we are seen and want to be seen. Through the characters of Jennifer and Miss Africa South, Pearl (played by Loreece Harrison), Misbehaviour shows how challenging conventional notions of beauty is as worthy a fight as tearing the whole damn thing down.
General release from Fri 13 Mar.