- 27 Feb - 05 Mar, 2021
- 09 May - 15 May, 2020
There’s a very British sort of wackiness to this bizarre and farcical true story from the annals of pop culture, told here with charm and fun. It’s the 1970 Miss World contest, which erupted in controversy and feminist protest, winding up with host Bob Hope covered in flour, the BBC covered in embarrassment and the fledgling women’s liberation movement covered in glory. If there is a tonal uncertainty in this comedy, then that’s because there was a tonal uncertainty in the real-life events, and the movie nicely conveys how they were at one and the same time deadly serious and pythonically silly.
Keira Knightley and Jessie Buckley play the two Women’s Liberation Front activists Sally Alexander and Jo Robinson who launched a protest from the audience; Greg Kinnear plays the American comedy legend Hope, whose sense of humour deserted him horribly on the night; and Gugu Mbatha-Raw is Jennifer Hosten, Miss Grenada, whose dignity and self-belief remained intact. Misbehaviour conveys the unexpected fact that it was the Miss World pageant, for all its absurdity and tackiness, that gave a woman of colour a chance to shine.
Rhys Ifans and Keeley Hawes are the egregious Eric and Julia Morley, who in the late 60s are presiding over an event that is always threatening to collapse under the weight of its own tackiness, reasonably evident even then. Kinnear’s Bob Hope is persuaded to host the show again, to the suppressed rage of his wife Dolores, played by Lesley Manville, who has not forgiven his indiscretion with a Miss World contestant some years previously. Meanwhile, Sally Alexander (played by Knightley) is a history student at London University, frowningly warned by a male academic that her planned dissertation on women’s role in the labour movement is a “bit niche”. And Jessie Buckley is Jo Robinson – the punchy direct-action enthusiast. Phyllis Logan has a nice role as Sally’s posh mum who resents being told that her generation were sellouts.
The objectification of women’s bodies is hardly a thing of the past, but this film brings us back to the bizarre way in which this contest turned it into a quasi-polite ritual, with rosettes on the hips and even – unbelievably – numbered discs on the wrists, a horrible touch that really did make it look like a cattle market.