My only problem with “Misbehaviour” is that it should have been titled “Miss-behaviour”. That’s the one quibble I have with this surprising, based on a true story gem.
The setting is 1970 London. Small but passionate groups of women are beginning to voice their displease with how women are (and always have been) treated in the male-dominated society. They band together in hopes of forcing change. Their first target: the Miss World Beauty Pageant. We’re witnessing the start of what will become the Women’s Liberation Movement.
Keira Knightley plays Sally Alexander. She’s a single mother fighting for equality in London’s patriarchal academic world. Sally’s not taken seriously by her male colleagues. And her old school mother (Phyllis Logan) isn’t fond of Sally’s progressive views.
Jessie Buckley continues her incredible acting winning streak as Jo Robinson. She’s the most rebellious of the Women’s Lib activists. On the opposite side of this conflict is Miss World creator Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans). Morley, who also produces the pageant telecast (watched live by 100 million people worldwide) sees nothing wrong with objectifying women in beauty competitions. But his wife Julia senses change is coming.
But this issue, which is at the heart of “Misbehaviour”, is complicated. The contestants competing in the pageant see it as a great opportunity. This is especially true for those from countries where discrimination of women, especially black women, is commonplace. Such is the case with Miss Grenada, Jennifer Hosten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). She sees Miss World as a way out of her repressive, personal situation. Her beliefs are in direct conflict with the female activists, who believe it’s the pageant system that’s repressive.
And at the center of it all is pageant host Bob Hope. Greg Kinnear plays the iconic comedian.
“Misbehaviour” takes the crown for Best Movie Ensemble of 2020. Everyone shines. There are so many fantastic one-on-one scenes: Knightley and Buckley, Knightley and Logan, Knightley and Mbatha-Raw, Mbatha-Raw and fellow contestants, Kinnear and Manville. The script is sharp and pointed, but never preachy. Every line is a statement piece, followed by a remark or comeback that raises the bar even higher.
Writers Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chaippe have crafted the year’s top screenplay. It presents a well-rounded and balanced look at both the women’s rights movement and the pros/cons of beauty pageants. We get all sides – all perspectives. We’re also treated to the humor, ugliness, insanity and truths of the pageant world. And no character is portrayed as purely good or bad. Everyone is simply human.
Kinnear’s Hope is the showiest role. He gets the legendary funnyman’s mannerisms and voice correct (a prosthetic nose helps the look). But his wife Dolores (Leslie Manville) actually provides more impact to the mission and message of the movie.
The events of “Misbehaviour” took place 50 years ago, but they’re incredibly relevant today. In the climactic scenes, director Philippa Lowthorpe also gives us a fascinating look at live event security in the pre-9/11 world. Things happen that will shock you.
Not only is this story is true… we get to meet the real life participants in a clever epilogue. That’s the cherry on top.