Movie Review: Misbehaviour
Misbehaviour is based on the true story of an incident at the Miss World beauty pageant of 1970. The film follows several groups. The first is the group of women in the women's movement that plan to disrupt the pageant. The next is the pageant coordinators. The third is the contestants in the pageant including two Black women competing as their country's first entrants. The fourth is Bob Hope and his wife Dolores as Bob prepares to be a special guest at the event. The film stars Keira Knightly, Jessie Buckley, Ruby Bentall, Lily Newmark, John Heffernan, Rhys Ifans, Keeley Hawes, Lesley Manville, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Loreece Harrison, Suki Waterhouse, Clara Rosager, and Greg Kinnear. The film is directed by Philippa Lowthorpe and written by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe. The film is available for rental or purchase on a video on demand (VOD) platform like iTunes or Amazon.
I like the multiple angles on the story. Everyone gets an intriguing part to play in the narrative without any one story getting overshadowed. I thought it was interesting that the filmmakers chose to feature Eric Morley, who ran the pageant, as often as they did because it's obvious Miss World is built as a sexist competition for women to be judged almost solely on their looks, but it really heightens the tension within the pageant itself. Also, I should never be surprised when a celebrity was also a philanderer, especially as one as big as Bob Hope was.
What I think sets Misbehaviour apart is its erasure of the male gaze. There are no gratuitous shots of women's bodies. Director Philippa Lowthorpe and cinematographer Zac Nicholson do a great job of not lingering on any one part of the body. In most of the shots of the pageant we get a wide shot of several contestants or the camera is trained on the upper chest neck and face. It's an excellent way to show the contestant's beauty without exploiting them like the pageant would.
Another sequence within the action of the pageant that subverts the male gaze is as the final move of the contestants, which is to turn and show their butts to the judges. The move is done in a wide shot and then we get a high angle, not on the women, but at the judges below them. As the judges look at each rear end in turn it's hard not to see the glee in the male judges eyes even as they pretend to be impartially looking at the women. It's a fascinating shot I've not seen done in the same way before. It's a nice compliment to the two scenes of Sally in her history discussions when she's put upon by her male peers and dismissed by her advisor.
These two scenes with the addition of the scene where Sally interviews for the position within the history department and the television interview Sally does are really important to establishing our empathy. So often scenes like this would focus too heavily on the boorishness of the men involved. I like that the focus is rarely off of how intelligent Sally is and how despite that, the men judging her give her no credence beyond that she's going against how they feel she should behave. It's a good perspective to keep focus.
Though, what's even better is the conversation between Sally and Jennifer in the restroom at the event. For the most part we have seen both of these women as outsiders, yet there is a major difference between them. Jennifer reminds Sally that despite her action there that day and despite her work toward equality for women, she's still white and from a developed nation, which affords her a great deal of privilege and standing that Jennifer will have to fight all of her life for. It's not a scene where one side wins the argument or that one is more correct than the other. The purpose that this conversation, and several interactions between women in the film, serves is to show the intersectionality of gender and the women's movement. There is no one way to point out inequality.
Though, what is always equal is my joy at seeing Lesley Manville on screen. Her part as Dolores Hope is very small. She's in a handful of scenes, but her acid tongue is what makes her stand apart. Dolores knows that she will stick with Bob no matter what. She needs his safety and he needs her stability. This is where Manville shines because she knows just how to inch the knife in further every time. Her gift in acting is to be a grand foil and those powers are on elegant display here.
I do have one issue with the film, but it has nothing to do with the film itself, but the marketing. On the poster, the winner of the pageant is clearly displayed and despite the fact that it's based on a real event that I could have looked up on wikipedia, I would have appreciated the suspense all the more had I not noticed that. All in all though Misbehaviour is a good watch. It's funny and more than anything presents a lot of arguments and sides to the women's movement of the '70s. I think it's worth the rental and the conversations it may spring up afterward.