Director: Philippa Lowthorpe Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, Keira Knightly, Greg Kinnear, Lesley Manville, Rhys Ifans Running time: 106 mins
Misbehaviour benefits from the pedigree of a strong cast, a compelling story and a seasoned director at the helm; Philippa Lowthorpe was the first woman to win Best Director at the Baftas, and she’s won twice. The costuming, make up, hair and set design all evoke the new era being born and really ground the story in a time and place which feels fully realised. Misbehaviour has all the ingredients to make it a hit but unfortunately it falls down on building layered and sympathetic characters and it’s difficult to stay on board, especially when the plot holds no surprises (which isn’t the film’s fault necessarily because you can’t have spoilers for history!)
I felt that the treatment of Bob Hope’s character (Greg Kinnear) lacked teeth; this entertainer was already out-dated at the time Misbehaviour is set, audiences were losing patience for his homophobia, racism and bare-faced sexism even in the seventies. Hope represented the establishment with his pro-Vietnam stance, his friendships with figures like Nixon and his wealth. If you’ve seen the footage from the real-life 1970 Miss World pageant then you’ve heard Hope describe women as cattle, as fuel for this ‘dirty old man’s fantasies and sure, maybe you don’t have to demonise him but it rankled that he’s portrayed so softly.
For me, the defining moment of Misbehaviour comes at the end when the film intercuts between interviews with the real-life women and the actors portraying them. Their fascinating lives and inspiring achievements sizzle from their bright eyes but this further betrays how flimsy the characters are in the film itself. They don’t have weight or genuine conflict and so much more could have been devoted to the dynamics between the contestants. But beyond the relationship between Miss Grenada and Miss Africa South we occasionally get snippets with, the contestants largely serve as the window-dressing Hope thinks they are. There are a few moments where the white feminism of the student protestors is challenged and the privilege of being able to protest/get arrested which not everyone shares is hinted at but the intersectionality could have been more developed and I think that would have come naturally with fleshed-out characters. (2.5 / 5)