Philippa Lowthorpe’s latest feature immediately roots itself in its historical moment: before its opening title Misbehaviour has cut between divorced London mother interviewing for a spot at university, a young protester’s anti-patriarchal graffiti, and Bob Hope entertaining the Vietnam troops with the help of 1969’s Miss World. This set up – concentrated in theme yet broad in focus – immediately establishes the players and stakes for the following year’s historic pageant.

Add in South Africa’s first black contestant (as ‘Africa South’) and Miss Grenada’s first ever appearance, and Misbehaviour’s biggest stumbling block is that it tries to be two, if not three, films in one. Between the Women’s Liberation Front’s demonstrations, Miss Grenada’s battles with casual racism, and anti-Apartheid protests that seem oddly sidelined, the 1970 Miss World pageant was a hotbed of social and political commentary. The film, however, is only 106 minutes long – far too short to do justice to the nuances and historical significance of each person and movement even if its intentions are well-guided.

This overcrowding aside, Misbehaviour is a delight. The all-star cast brings heart and humour to both the pageant’s inner circle and those looking to tear it down. The film’s politics are not especially challenging –the objectification of women and lack of inclusion inherent in the beauty industry are thankfully far less controversial now than they were in 1970. That said, its recreation of the era’s brand of everyday sexism, brilliantly downplayed by male and female cast members, highlights the pervasiveness – and therefore urgency – of the misogyny and racism battled by campaigners and contestants.

A fun, feminist look at a historic pageant, Misbehaviour may lose depth as it juggles its various parties and players. That said, its spirited performances and immaculate production design make for a fun, if fluffy, retelling of a tumultuous Miss World.



CAST: Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, Keeley Hawes, Greg Kinnear, Rhys Ifans, Lesley Manville

DIRECTOR: Philippa Lowthorpe

WRITERS: Rebecca Frayn, Gaby Chiappe

SYNOPSIS: A team of women hatch a plan to disrupt the 1970 Miss World beauty competition in London.