#SheWatches Misbehaviour 

November 25, 2020


Do you remember watching the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants? I do. In the 1960’s and 70’s the Miss World competition was the most – watched television show on the planet with over one million viewers.The new film Misbehaviour is based on the true story of the 1970 Miss World contest which took place in London and was hosted by US comedy star, Bob Hope. Claiming that beauty competitions demeaned women, the newly formed Women’s Liberation Movement achieved fame by invading the stage and disrupting the live broadcast. Not only that, when the show resumed, the result caused uproar: the winner was not the Swedish favourite but Miss Grenada, the first black woman to be crowned Miss World. 

In a matter of hours the world had witnessed the patriarchy driven from the stage and the Western ideal of beauty turned on its head. It’s a great story and a moment in time which has changed the course of history. She Society were privileged to attend an advanced screening of this riveting tale starring the always amazing, Keira Knightly.

The Story 

This British comedy – drama film does a great job of showing the different points of view of the day,  without judgement. We meet Sally Alexander (Keira Knightly), the real life activist who famously stormed the Royal Albert Hall with a group of like minded friends, protesting chauvinism with ink squirting toy guns and flour bombs.Their slogan was “ We’re not beautiful, we’re not ugly, we are just angry.” 

We relive Sally’s struggles to become a female academic in a man’s world, whilst also trying to raise her own daughter. Keira Knightly as always owns every scene in which she appears and it is clear why she took the role with a cause so close to her heart. 

Then there is Miss Grenada, Jennifer Hosten, ( Gugu Mbatha -Raw) who ultimately wins the contest. She has a powerful line when she says to Sally, “ If I could, I’d wish to have your opportunities in life.” 

For a woman of colour to be seen as a legitimate winner of this competition enabled little girls the world over to dream big. Her performance is powerful and full of grace. She conveys so much meaning with just a look.

Bob Hope is played by Greg Kinnear with equal amounts of charm and cringe. You will feel for his long suffering wife, Dolores (Lesley Manville), who plays her role with steel and softness. You also realise the comfort Bob brought to the troops in Vietnam. 

Rhys Ilfans makes a good fist of his role as the pageant organiser, Eric Morley, who is casually sexist and clumsy but ultimately just harried trying to organise such a diverse gaggle of women and their long suffering chaperones. His wife Julia ( Keeley Hawes) is constantly in damage control mode. 

There is also the theme of anti – Apartheid with South Africa sending two contestants with Miss Africa South , Pearl Jansen, afraid to return to her home country. She had never been on a plane or to a big city before. I loved the period’s cars, clothes and music which anchored the film. I would love to see it again for this reason alone. 

There were a lot of themes and undercurrents to explore in this film and although we have come a long way in terms of feminism there is always more to be done. I can see both sides, as these pageants were a product of the time. In 1981 I was crowned my high school’s beauty queen and I know it made me more confident. We also raised a lot of money for charity and the best part was that it gave me a platform to help other younger girls to encourage them and show them you could be academic as well, no matter what your circumstances were.

One of my prizes was a deportment and modelling course which equipped me with many skills I would otherwise not have had but….. even at sixteen, I knew it was wrong to put girls in a leotard, weigh and measure them, pointing out their flaws and their assets. I never did complete that course. The scenes where they were writing down the measurements of the contestants made me squirm. 

This movie crams a lot of ideas into one film and is an intersectional look at an event that was witnessed by most of the world. It’s been tackled delicately and with sensitivity. It will make you laugh, cringe, tear up and think about many issues that are still a part of today’s society. 

Do we as women have equality? Not quite… but things have progressed so much since I was a girl and I know it is up to me as a mother of sons to bring about a change in attitudes and as a women’s writer to raise the bar and rattle the cage.

You will be talking about and thinking about this movie long after you leave the cinema. Wait until the end to see the real life characters depicted in the film and what they have done. This lovely British film will surprise and delight you and the ending brought this writer to tears. Misbehaviour is in cinemas from November 26. 

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