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Film Review: Misbehaviour

18 March 20 words: Elizabeth O'Riordan

This insightful depiction of the 1970 Miss World competition leaves audiences with a lot to reflect on...

Director: Philippa Lowthorpe
Starring: Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley
Running time: 106 minutes

I was lucky enough to grow up without beauty competitions monopolising the TV, and after watching this film, I’m very glad. My mum, however, was six at the time of the 1970 Miss World competition, and remembers being glued to the telly in awe as beautiful women were displayed on screen, deciding which one she’d be when she was older. Based on a real event, Misbehaviour follows a group of female rebels as they plan to disrupt the Miss World competition in the name of women’s liberation. Resulting in flour bombs, water pistols and protest signs, it’s a fun one to watch. 

Admittedly, a film about women’s liberation in the #MeToo era isn’t the most original idea for a script that I’ve ever heard, but Misbehaviour is a thought-provoking retrospective of the 1970s and the impact that beauty competitions had. The movie is a feel-good film at heart, but this doesn’t stop it addressing and reminding us of the degrading mess that was the Miss World competition in 1970. From Bob Hope and his unfunny sexist jokes to the swimsuit “turn around” moment, the film is a time capsule for something that I’m sure many people would much rather forget. As the protagonist Sally Alexander describes it, the only other time that judgement would be given for weight and looks alone would be at a cattle market. So why was it so popular to watch women on TV be paraded around like cattle?

Delves into the complexities of a primarily white group of activists disturbing the competition the first year a black woman ever won

The film primarily switches between following the women’s liberation group and the beauty pageant contests, both of which are preparing for the contest in different ways. Something that I really appreciated was the well-rounded representations of the beauty pageant contestants; they weren’t depicted as being stupid or shallow, but rather as women with their own stories and their own reasons for wanting to take part, often to make money to follow their real pursuits or escape poverty. 

I’m glad they delved into the complexities of a primarily white group of female activists disturbing the competition in the first year a black woman ever won the Miss World crown. In a particularly poignant scene, Sally Alexander meets Jennifer Hosten after she’s been given her crown and asks Jennifer if she thinks that it’s wrong to judge women based on their physicality alone. Jennifer promptly reminds Sally that she doesn’t have the same privileges as her and that this is her tool to make sure that little black girls everywhere feel beautiful too. This scene raises some very interesting and important questions; as a white woman, is shutting down the beauty pageant such a good thing if it deprives someone who is more oppressed than yourself? This scene suggests that there are greater complexities to think about. 

Overall, I found the film very enjoyable. I thought that the costume design was great, the real-life stories of the women were incorporated well and it was both a fun and stirring watch. With all retrospective films or stories, it’s important to ask how things have changed since then. Have the problems gone, diminished or have they just changed shape? I recommend seeing Misbehaviour and thinking about that. 

Did you know? Jennifer Hosten has published a new memoir to coincide with the release of the film

Misbehaviour is available to pre-order on DVD and Blu-Ray