Saturday, October 3, 2020

Misbehaviour: Movie Review

Gratifying entertainment in the hands of talented women.
There have been a lot of recent period pieces that seem just as timely and relevant today. Misbehaviour fits very nicely in that category. A story of activists centered around the 1970 Miss World competition tackling misogynism and racism. It’s led by a really fun group of actresses and hits all the right notes even if it’s not as big a film as others would like.   2020

Directed by: Philippa Lowthorpe

Screenplay by: Rebecca Frayn, Gaby Chiappe

Starring: Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley,
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Rhys Ifans

The film works best when focusing on the dynamic between Keira Knightley and Jessie Buckley. Knightley, as is usual for her, plays an independent and very determined woman, but also as usual for her, always adds the right additional elements to fully flesh out her character. Sally Alexander is a divorced mother, trying to go back to university as a mature student, living with a man (whom she most definitely walks all over), and loves her mother while simultaneously despising the life she lived. Her mother (Phyllis Logan) doesn’t understand how those two actions can both be true. But Knightley plays those basic human dichotomies with ease.

Jessie Buckley plays Jo Robinson a young artist who can’t do anything by the rules. She frequently butts heads with Sally who lives a more conventional but forward-thinking lifestyle. Sally and Jo become the leaders of the women’s liberation movement – the primary focus of the film. Their location and timing line up with the 1970 Miss World competition. Jo and the others don’t have TV but Sally watches in horror as her mother, daughter and boyfriend all watch the promos for it as quality entertainment.

The women’s liberation movement is spliced into the events leading up to the Miss World competition really well. The Miss World organizers are concerned about their racism and lack of Black contestants. This year there’s a first time entry from Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Africa South (Loreece Harrison) – which is South Africa’s attempt to integrate by crowning a White Miss South Africa and a Black Miss Africa South.

Miss Grenada and Africa South are fighting the racism and hate that the women’s liberation movement is threatening to undermine or ruin their chance for representation. Most of the other contestants are equally frustrated since they see this as other women hurting their chances to make something of themselves (prize money and opportunities if they win) – despite failing to understand that previous winners never became anything more than famous for a year.

The factual aspects, including Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) and the final scenes showing the future careers of all the main women, is a highlight along with all the different female dynamics in play. The racism element at times feels a bit too big for the film as it’s begging for more depth which the story just can’t accommodate, but the story does stick to the facts and manages to remain entertaining.

While period pieces will always be easy fodder for Best Costume Design at the Oscars, I really hope this gets considered for Best Hair and Make-up which is just so perfectly 1970. Misbehaviour does such great work with all the details and all the characters and their dynamics, that it’s an easy recommend for fans of this genre.