Misbehaviour is a film about the 1970 Miss World contest that was disrupted by ‘bloody women’s libbers’ — that’s what my dad always called them, anyhow — throwing flour bombs and shouting ‘we’re not cattle!’ as Bob Hope fled the stage in a panic and our televisions temporarily blacked out.Marvellous, I think now, although at the time I was probably as annoyed as my dad. I loved this show when I was growing up and wouldn’t have known there was anything amiss, as it was all so normalised, watched by a global audience of 100 million. Great family entertainment, I’d have said, now get out my way so I can see the contestants parade with actual numbered discs on their wrists as Michael Aspel pervs all over them. Astonishing to think it was ever like this. Framed as a comedy drama, it makes for an entertainingly fun film if not an especially deep one. It was also the year that Miss Grenada won, the first ever black woman, which was monumental, and the film doesn’t quite know what to do about that.
The director, Philippa Lowthorpe (The Crown, Three Girls), tells the story through two of the activists involved: Sally Alexander (played by Keira Knightley) and Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley). (I think they’re both around 34-26-34, but could be wrong as you have to do it by eye these days.) Sally, when we meet her, is applying as a mature student to study history at University College London and the sexism is insane. ‘What does your husband think about you returning to university?’ asks the male panel.
Alexander thinks change comes from the inside while Robinson, who runs a chapter of the Women’s Liberation Movement, is all for anger and direct action. But together they campaign against the competition and then devise a plan to infiltrate it.
Meanwhile, we see the contest gearing up. ‘You’re looking rather lovely today, I must say,’ Robin Day tells Sally when he interviews her and, to her credit, she doesn’t punch him in the face. Keeley Hawes and Rhys Ifans are Julia and Eric Morley, the husband and wife team behind the contest, who are not much explored — Eric is pure panto villain — and we also have Greg Kinnear as Bob Hope who is an out-and-out slimeball. Lesley Manville plays his (long-suffering) wife and although she doesn’t do much, she can do more with not very much than almost any actor out there.
The film is not taxing. Not for the actors, not for us, which is perhaps wise, as a serious polemical film on ‘oppression as spectacle’ would likely send many running for the hills. But when it veers into more complex waters, like the race issue, it does flounder. Miss Grenada’s win (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw; 36-26-36 maybe?) is an opportunity to ‘empower’ black women the world over but now these privileged white women have ruined it all? There is a (highly contrived) meeting between Alexander and Jennifer Hosten that attempts to address this but it is half-hearted and you sense the filmmakers wished a white woman had won so it would all go away.
But otherwise it’s an enjoyable ride and just to remind you of those times I’ll leave you with one of Hope’s gags from the night: ‘I love cattle… I was out there just now feeling their thighs and their calves.’ Ugh.