Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) and Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley) have little in common, and they even fail to bond over their mutual cause when they meet at a women’s meeting. But though they usually take a different path toward their ideals, they unite over the upcoming 1970 Miss World beauty competition which will be held right in their backyard – London.
It’s extremely upsetting that women have been protesting the sexism inherent in such a pageant for 50 years now, and yet they continue to happen, judging women on the height of their hair and the curves in their bikinis.
Okay, technically the women were still competing in one-piece bathing suits in 1970, but their measurements were recorded and announced during the broadcast, which leaves even less to the imagination than even the skimpiest swimsuit. Sally, Jo, and their cohorts plan to attend the live broadcast, and to disrupt it.
Meanwhile, feminism isn’t the only movement on the rise. Racism is too, and this year, for the first time, South Africa is impelled to send a woman of colour in addition to the ubiquitous white one, and Grenada sends a Black woman to compete as well. Sally et. al believe that a “family” show judging a woman based on appearance alone shouldn’t exist, but Miss Grenada, Jennifer Hosten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) knows what her presence will say to little girls of colour all over the world. They both have a point, and unfortunately, this is a good illustration of how feminism has routinely left its sisters of colour behind. Misbehaviour isn’t about to shy away from that unpleasant fact, and it isn’t afraid to tackle difficult or unpopular topics.
Case in fact: Bob Hope. Legendary, beloved Bob Hope, fondly remembered for his numerous USO trips, on which Miss Universe would sometimes join him, the mere sight of her deemed a boost to morale. Bob Hope had hosted the Miss Universe pageant back in 1961 and was tapped to host again in 1970, to the disapproval of his wife, since in ’61 he’d started a 30 year long affair with the winner. Bob Hope (portrayed in the film by Greg Kinnear, his wife Dolores by Lesley Manville) was a more legendary womanizer than he was a comedian; he carried on more affairs than he could probably count. Knowing that “women’s libbers” were protesting the pageant, he thought it wise to work some extra misogyny into the pageant with remarks like “It is quite a cattle market here tonight and I’ve been back there checking calves.” Har har.
These different story lines help tell a fuller truth and give the events a proper context. The lesson here is a little complicated, but it’s told in an entertaining way by an extremely talented cast and I’m quite pleased if a little surprised to confirm that Misbehaviour strikes the right balance and delivers a movie you’ll actually be glad you saw.