“So you don’t want to bring down the establishment, you just want a seat at the table?” sneers anarchist women’s libber Jo (Jessie Buckley). Though initially critical of Keira Knightley’s Sally Alexander and her middle-class propriety, the two soon overcome their ideological differences. Aretha Franklin’s Respect follows a speech about overthrowing the patriarchy. “We’re not beautiful, we’re not ugly, we’re angry” posters are drawn up; the air is punched. In this schematically engineered feelgood story about the women who protested against the Miss World pageant in 1970, feminism is one size fits all. We move between the protesters and the event, though the latter scenes are too self-consciously caricatured to work as an effective critique of sexist beauty standards. Organiser Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans) is portrayed as a benign cockney charmer, while slimy host Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) is more camp than creepy.
The film is called Misbehaviour, but a timid script belies mischief of any sort. Screenwriters Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe (Their Finest) present a variety of “feminist” positions without confidently stating their own. The smart but holier-than-thou second-waver Sally is played off against her repressed mother’s sacrificial family values, as well as the neoliberal choice feminism of the pageant girls, whose bodies offer them a means of international travel and class mobility.
Significantly, 1970 also saw Grenada’s Jennifer Hosten (the formidable Gugu Mbatha-Raw) become the first black Miss World. As she calmly explains, her win is one for representation too, something taken away from her by the intervening white ladies who claim to know better. It’s telling that the film prefers to spend its running time with them.
Source: The Guardian