Film review: Misbehaviour

The protests at the 1970 Miss World competition is a great subject, but this film misses the mark says Linda Marric



In 1970, the Miss World competition took place in London with American comedian Bob Hope as guest of honour.  As the show was about to reach its final stages, a group of women from the the newly formed Womens Liberation Movement achieved overnight fame when they invaded the stage, disrupting the live broadcast of the competition. The story of how this momentous event unraveled is told in this flawed but likeable drama from Philippa Lowthorpe which stars Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbathan-Raw and Jessie Buckley

Misbehaviour follows the story of Sally Alexander (Knightley), a single mother and mature student struggling to find her voice in an all-male academic environment. Initially enthused by a chance of having “a seat at the table” to pursue her dreams, Sally soon realises that freedom is to be taken and never asked for. When she meets feisty feminist Jo Robinson (Buckley at her brilliant best), the two women soon learn to find common ground, even if their methods of protest don’t always match.

With the Miss World competition fast approaching, Jo, Sally and their fellow Women’s Liberation group decide to stage a protest by infiltrating the celebrations. Meanwhile, the husband and wife team behind the contest Eric and Julia Morley (Rhys Ifans and Keeley Hawes) have to think fast in order to minimise bad publicity created around the show by both feminist groups and anti-apartheid activists protesting the continued appearance of South Africa in the show. 

Lowthorpe presents an engaging, if decidedly disjointed production that’s often let down by its inability to decide which story it wants to tell. The film is  at its worst when it expects audiences to care about the ins and outs of the contest itself. A subplot involving the first ever black South African contestant almost manages to make a worthwhile point about the importance of representation, but is ultimately overshadowed by everything else around it.

Gugu Mbathan-Raw shines as the smart and well to do Miss Grenada, while both Knightley and Wild Rose star  Buckley play off each other beautifully as the chalk and cheese feminist duo. Elsewhere, Rhys Ifans is in hilarious scenery-chewing form as Miss World creator Eric Morley, while Greg Canner does a mean impression of the legendary Bob Hope.

There may well be a great story to tell about this whole incident one day, but sadly Misbehaviour misses the mark in doing so. Some great performances save this historical drama from being a complete bust.


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