There are only two contexts in which value is measured based on weight, girth and physical finesse, points out Keira Knightley’s earnest feminist student, Sally Alexander, in ‘Misbehaviour’. One is a beauty pageant, the other is a cattle market.
Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe (‘Swallows and Amazons’) this mostly factual story of the disrupted 1970 Miss World competition leaves no question as to why the newly established Women’s Liberation Movement wanted to derail the event. Lines of contestants skitter about in swimsuits, while male organisers gawp at them.
King of official perving is presenter Bob Hope (a suitably creepy Greg Kinnear), a man so arrogant he had every one of his gags filed alphabetically for a future library. Full props to a radiantly bitter Lesley Manville who pops up from time to time as his wife Dolores – ‘long-suffering’ doesn’t begin to cover it.
The script is a bit predictable, but the ’70s-brown set designs and the Granny Takes a Trip outfits are excellent – especially Knightley’s patchwork suede dress.
But ‘Misbehaviour’ is best at showing the limitations, as much as the successes, of second-wave feminism. There’s a parallel narrative about Miss Grenada/Jennifer Hosten (a poised Gugu Mbatha-Raw) vying for victory with Pearl Jansen (Loreece Harrison), the black contestant from apartheid South Africa. Compared to these women, Sally’s issues almost feel like small beans. This is a film about how far we’ve come – and how far we still have to go.