FilmReview by BrianPenn
Before political correctness re-set the boundaries of social etiquette, Miss World was a highlight of the TV calendar. BBC coverage drew an audience of 27 million and newspapers published a sweepstake kit especially for the occasion. Young girls from across the globe paraded before a panel of judges who would decide the next Miss World. However, the women's liberation movement was beginning to challenge society's perception of women. The 1970 contest became a political melting pot as various factions saw an opportunity to make their point.
Misbehaviour tells the story of Sally (Keira Knightley), a mature student fighting for recognition in a male dominated environment. She meets Jo (Jessie Buckley), a militant women's libber who favours direct action. They are kindred spirits who decide to target the Miss World contest at the Royal Albert Hall. The show’s creator Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans) rules with an iron fist, but a storm is brewing with the inclusion of a white South African contestant. To pacify anti-apartheid campaigners Morley recruits a black girl to represent Africa-South. Inveterate showbiz legend Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) is also on board as co-compere much to the chagrin of wife Dolores (Lesley Manville). As the women quietly slip through security, the scene is set for a memorable protest before a global audience.
Director Philippa Lowthorpe doesn’t necessarily beat the drum for feminism; but presents a balanced view of a subject that is anything but black or white. Contestants were weighed and measured with their vital statistics recorded by organisers; the analogy with a cattle market was never far wrong. But it also stresses the aspirational nature of a Miss World title. As eventual winner Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) rightly pointed out ‘it will help me find my place in this world’. It’s easy to demonise the concept of Miss World but the key is in the packaging. The objectification of women back then was blatantly obvious; but in the modern context was it any worse than the sexualised packaging of Love Island? Misbehaviour is an extremely well made film with pleasing performances from all concerned. More importantly it finds a voice that is both reasoned and logical; a sadly absent quality in many films.