Miss World film misses the mark

Keira Knightley and Gugu Mbatha Raw in Misbehaviour (IMDB)

Misbehaviour is a comedy-drama inspired by the true story of a group of women who disrupted the Miss World beauty competition in London in 1970. Source: Jesuit Media.

Beauty pageants have been said to weave together 'the forces of patriarchy, capitalism, and racism', and the film confirms that such is so.

The group of women’s liberation activists made front page news by setting out to disrupt the pageant, claiming that beauty pageants demean women. The activists focused on pageant host Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) for his sexist remarks about the competitors that he routinely offered for laughs – comments that were not tolerated by his wife (Lesley Manville).

The film is a seemingly serious attempt to deal with complex racial and sexual attitudes, in a comic-dramatic way, and it fails. The woman who won the competition, Miss Grenada, Jennifer Housten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), was the first black woman to claim the Miss World crown. Mbatha-Raw gives an ambiguous meaning to winning when she struggles with how best to compete in the same way as white, privileged contestants, who have learnt how to play the rules for projecting sexual allure.

The movie focuses on Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley), a middle-class history student at London University, who befriends another student, Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley), who engages in outrageous forms of protest and is the ring-leader of the feminist group. Sally intellectually argues her case, while Jo looks for action that is visible and immediate.

This is a period drama of potential weight, but it pursues its narrative by skimming thinly over racism, sexism, and class differences. It only partially succeeds in negating the ideals of beauty pageants it would wish to argue ought not to be supported.

Review by Peter W. Sheehan, Jesuit Media

Misbehaviour: Starring Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keeley Hawes, Lesley Manville, Rhys Ifans, Greg Kinnear, and Tashi Bullman. Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe. Rated M (Coarse language). 107 min


Misbehaviour (Jesuit Media

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