An important and rousing message does not always make for a great movie, and “Misbehaviour,” while timely, is a bit of a bore. This fictional retelling (based on a true story) of the Women’s Liberation Movement disrupting the Miss World beauty pageant in London bleeds sincerity, but never quite pulls off an effective, empowering message.
Notorious cad Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) hosted the 1970 Miss World competition, the most-watched television program in the world. Over 100 million viewers tuned in to watch ladies from around the globe put their bodies on display by sauntering around in swimsuits and high heels, getting their measurements taken in a female cattle call. Arguing that beauty competitions objectify women, student Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) joins the women’s movement after taking an interest in carefree troublemaker and vandal Jo (Jessie Buckley). Sally finds her home among fellow feminists, and eventually joins in an inspired disruption of the pageant on live t.v. The film weaves together several true stories and characters, including Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the first black woman to be crowned Miss World.
Screenwriters Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe try their best to objectively present the two conflicting sides of the pageant debate, and the film timidly touches on both. Director Philippa Lowthorpe opts to throw in a scene of beauty queens asserting that they are doing something important because young girls often look up to them, a refreshing bit that places blame and guilt on no one. Taking the middle road walks the line along the varying degrees of feminism and the way each individual woman interprets the movement.
There’s a sense of female empowerment as characters fight exploitation on both a symbolic level (participating in events that pit one female over another based on her looks) and everyday realities (where work is underpaid and minds are undervalued). It’s disheartening that even in 2020, women are still fighting for equality and respect.
“Misbehaviour” is disappointing because by design, it seems intent on ruffling as few feathers as possible. The themes are important, but the film is stuffy and slow. This badass moment in the history of the women’s rights movement deserved a stronger, more confident vehicle to deliver its message of revolution to all generations of women across the globe.
By: Louisa Moore