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Review: Misbehaviour (2020)

Misbehaviour (2020)

Directed by: Philippa Lowthorpe

Premise: Based on true events. Feminist activists plan to protest the 1970 Miss World pageant in London while the pageant showrunners try to adapt to demands for diversity by enlisting beauty queens of color.

What Works: Misbehaviour is drama as rhetoric and the filmmakers mostly succeed at what they’re trying to do. The story primarily unfolds from the point of view of Sally Alexander, played by Keira Knightley. Alexander is depicted as a student working on an advanced degree in history, fully expecting that her hard work will earn her equality with her male peers. As it becomes evident that things aren’t working out that way, Alexander gets involved with radical feminists who have no interest in appeasing the mainstream. Alexander finds this shortsighted. The main storyline depicts different ideas about activism, in particular how activists must negotiate between compromising their integrity and the necessity of reaching an audience to advance their goals. The b-storyline of Misbehaviour occurs behind the scenes of the Miss World pageant. The young women are revealed to be more than just pretty faces; they’ve entered this contest as a shot at achieving their professional and personal goals. This takes on an additional dimension in the story of Jennifer Hosten, Miss Grenada, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. As a woman of color, Hosten is depicted as aware of the racial implications of appearing on an internationally televised beauty pageant. Here the film gets into some nuance about privilege and activism, contrasting the agendas of the white feminists protesting the pageant with those of the black contestants. It’s a smart set up that gives Misbehavior some depth and complexity.

What Doesn’t: Misbehaviour stumbles when the story arrives at the Miss World pageant. The feminists’ protest is the organic climax of the film but Misbehavior goes on to dramatize the rest of the pageant so the filmmakers can complete the story of the contestants. The different narrative pieces don’t quite fit together and the movie has multiple climaxes. Because the pageant goes on more or less as planned, the activists’ stunt plays anticlimactically. The inelegant narrative structure undercuts the drama but it also reveals the film’s rhetorical shortcomings. Misbehaviour attempts to argue that the disruption of the 1970 Miss World pageant was a much more significant moment than it actually was; the fact that pageants and other forms of objectification remain virtually as prevalent today is evidence enough of that.

DVD extras: Featurettes, interviews, TV spots and a trailer.

Bottom Line: Misbehaviour stumbles in its final stretch but the movie succeeds as a drama and as a rhetorical piece about the objectification of women. The filmmakers generally succeed in what they’re trying to do and insert some complexity and nuance into the drama.

Episode: #840 (February 21, 2021)