(2020) (Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley) (Not Rated)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Drama: A divorced mother joins radical social activists in protesting the upcoming Miss World beauty pageant in 1970 London.
It's 1970 and Sally Alexander (KEIRA KNIGHTLEY) is a young divorced mother hoping to gain admittance to University College London and who wants a better, equal footing future for her young daughter who she's raising with her boyfriend, Gareth (JOHN HEFFERNAN), with some help from her mother, Evelyn (PHYLLIS LOGAN).
While waiting for word of being accepted or not, Sally happens to meet Jo Robinson (JESSIE BUCKLEY) and her fellow activists, including Sarah (RUBY BENTALL), who are against all sexism and view Sally as only partially enlightened on the same matter.
But both look down on beauty pageants such as the Miss World contest run by Eric Morley (RHYS IFANS) with help from his wife, Julia (KEELEY HAWES). They're hoping to land comedian Bob Hope (GREG KINNEAR) to host the show, something that doesn't sit well with his wife, Dolores (LESLEY MANVILLE), who's all too aware of his wandering eye.
With the likes of Miss USA, Sandra Anne Wolsfeld (SUKI WATERHOUSE), Miss Grenada, Jennifer Hosten (GUGU MBATHA-RAW), and the second contestant from South Africa, dubbed Miss Africa South, Pearl Janssen (LOREECE HARRISON), joining pageant favorite Miss Sweden, Maj Christel Johansson (CLARA ROSAGER), Eric hopes the show will go off without a hitch. But he's unaware of what Sally, Jo, and others are planning on doing to protest the pageant's sexual objectification of women.
- OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
Most people are familiar with famous figures associated with feminism and the women's liberation movement such as Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, Coretta Scott King, and the recently departed Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. One name I doubt many would connect to such efforts, however, is Bob Hope.
Granted, I'm not suggesting he was a fervent supporter of those movements. Far from it, in fact, as he hosted a less than flattering hour-long special called "Bob Hope Looks at Women's Lib" on NBC in 1970. And that year he also hosted the Miss World beauty pageant where his routine included comparing women to cows and making crude misogynistic jokes. After the show, he reportedly told reporters, "You'll notice about the women in liberation movements, none of them are pretty, because pretty women don't have those problems."
That remark came about not just due to his overall mindset, but also because feminists launched a surprise protest in the middle of the show, throwing "flour bombs" onto the stage and otherwise disrupting the proceedings with chants and noisemakers.
All of which was seen by around 100 million people around the globe. As I was six-years-old at the time and located in the U.S. where it was well past my bedtime, I don't recall any of that -- or the fact that Miss Grenada, Jennifer Hosten, was the first black woman ever to win the contest. Frankly I had never heard of any of that.
That is, until it came up in the winning period drama, "Misbehaviour." The film -- from director Philippa Lowthorpe and screenwriters Gaby Chiappe and Rebecca Frayn -- begins with Hope (Greg Kinnear) doing a USO bit in Vietnam where he's somewhat lecherously presenting a beauty pageant winner for the male troops, including listing her body measurements.
The film then segues to a young divorced mother, Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley), trying to get admitted to University College London but similarly being judged by men over her appearance (one labels her as a 7 out of 10, while another bumps that up to a 9). When not doing that, she's trying to unionize female cleaners and generally wants a better, less sexist, and non-misogynistic world for her young daughter to grow up in.
That puts her at odds with her traditional mother (Phyllis Logan) who sees nothing wrong with the world order or things like beauty pageants and thinks that Sally's beliefs are emasculating to her live-in boyfriend (John Heffernan), what with him -- aghast -- cooking dinner.
Sally's life changes when she meets a young activist (Jessie Buckley) who thinks Sally's commitment to the cause is little more than window dressing. But when Sally realizes her seat at the table at the university is little more than a high chair, she joins forces with Jo and her fellow activists. And their target for making their point in the upcoming Miss World pageant that's to take place in London featuring contestants such as Miss Africa South (yes, that's what they called the part for the token black entrant), Pearl Janssen (Loreece Harrison); Miss USA, Sandra Anne Wolsfeld (Suki Waterhouse); and the odds-on-favorite to win, Maj Christel Johansson (Clara Rosager).
While I have no idea how historically accurate the film is -- although it appears fairly close based on seeing the real-life women in today's setting at the end -- it's a well-made and ultra engaging offering. Performances are stellar across the board and Lowthorpe expertly balances the multiple storylines and characters that are in play, along with the various thematic elements that also include South Africa's apartheid system.
Overall, I enjoyed the film a great deal and if anything, it certainty sheds new light on the man who "helped" bring the movement to a worldwide audience, Mr. Bob Hope. "Misbehaviour" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.
Reviewed September 20, 2020 / Posted September 25, 2020
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