Sunday, 15 March 2020

Review: Misbehaviour

Cert: 12A / 106 mins / Dir. Philippa Lowthorpe / Trailer

Bolstering the March schedules comes the crowd-pleasing portrayal of the infamous events surrounding the 1970 Miss World contest, touching as it does on misogyny, racism, conformity and activism. Don't worry, it's not as heavy as all that sounds. Which turns out to be a problem, if anything. The main hurdle not quite cleared by Misbehaviour is that the story is about the ongoing struggle against women being reduced to entertainment. A struggle which is, for the most part, reduced to entertainment.

The outstanding cast of Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keeley Hawes, Loreece Harrison and a criminally-wasted Lesley Manville arguably handle the story's racial politics with more dexterity than the sexism, but still with surprisingly few sharp edges. Spirited performances from Rhys Ifans and Greg Kinnear wisely resist going full-pantomime under the director's auspices (very much the point, in fact), and are better for it.

Director Phillippa Lowe just about spins the plates of highlighting exploitative behaviour and the fact that the competition does mean a lot to its contestants. It just does this in a way that's not going to challenge or upset its audience*1. In its weaker moments, Misbehaviour feels like a victory-lap for a race that's still ongoing (a point it acknowledges in closing). Awareness is everything of course, and I certainly won't criticise the film's intention, but there's a more biting, urgent and ultimately satisfying movie to be made here. With Lowe at the helm of Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe's screenplay, the film may not be bound by the patriarchy but it's still very much a part of the cinematic establishment.

This is at its best during quieter scenes, when the script has more to say and can be heard more clearly. There's some fantastic character-interplay between Knightley and Buckley, then Harrison and Mbatha-Raw. Gugu is probably better than the rest of the film in fact, although that's not unusual. But at the end of the day it's a textbook Pathé Films offering with Nina Gold casting and too many musical montage sequences; this has West End Stage Adaptation written all over it...

Misbehaviour is good.
Is good enough?

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
It's a bit Made In Dagenham, a bit Kinky Boots, a bit Pride.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Sadly not.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's a distinct possibility.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Sabé and Commander D'Acy are in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Unless my wishing for a grittier interpretation of the story is the challenge, of course. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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