Time of the signs

Misbehaviour (12A, 106 Minutes)

After last week’s disastrous encounter with Military Wives, it was wise to catch Philippa Lowthorpe (director of The Other Boleyn Girl and some brilliant episodes of The Crown) in her latest venture into film, a 70’s-based comedy-drama called Misbehaviour. As Covid-19 creeps closer and closer to me, I’m taking this time to choose films wisely.

Luckily, after our viewing decline last week, we’ve ascended to the heavenly goods of this warm script.

Set during the 1970 Miss World competition, we witness the controversy and drama behind the beauty pageant that saw Jennifer Hosten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the first black woman to compete, winning the crown.

But behind this monumental step forward, feminist activist Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) is battling against the ‘misogynistic’ idea much to the annoyance of organisers Julia (Keeley Hawes) and Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans).

Though it may begin a little slow, this really does develop into an entertaining trip into the not so distant past (my Dad won’t feel too great about his age if I say it was 50 years ago).

The arguments between feminism and racism are explored with sensible pacing and pointers of both sides clashing together on the same, somewhat prehistoric idea of shoving women up on stage to be judged on their looks.

But what’s really invigorating is the comparison between then and now – particularly on the subject of body positivity. Taking a glance at how these competitions used to play out, it all comes across as disturbing sport for men – thinking about it more, it still does.

Knightley does a fine job in bringing Alexander to the screen, with the fiery, rebellious front of the Women’s Liberation burning in her eyes as she confronts the system head on.

But as is the case with a lot of Knightley’s work, she unfortunately does little to change or develop her performance with every project she takes on. As far as the eye can see, she’s been on repeat since Pirates like a broken tape.

Jessie Buckley does a fabulous job as her comrade, Jo Robinson. She’s got spark, wit and passion bubbling away.

Hawes and Ifans are a funny old match, with the foundations of their preposterous careers seemingly threatened by the new, idealistic feminism they would no doubt label a “crusade” on all they’ve made.

But again, whilst their talents are undeniable, Ifans and Hawes are repeating old characters- the ageing, gross misogynist and his resentful, strict wife. We’ve seen it before.

This isn’t a film about abuse in the modelling world, or anything to do with the hidden goings on, it’s a reflection of its overall existence in society back then and today. A strange, ritualistic exhibition of bikini girls on repeat yearly.

It’s not an argument against or for, just an observation of our own bizarre activities.

Then again, in a world that’s closing off day by day, it’s hardly the strangest thing to see this week.

RATING: 7/10