MISBEHAVIOUR – Review by Leslie Combemale

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If you’re looking for a good respite from crying jags from the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, I heartily suggest watching the new truth-based narrative Misbehaviour, an almost unbelievable story based on gender equality activist Sally Alexander’s work fighting for women’s rights in 70s Britain. Keira Knightly plays Alexander as the film captures her work around the disruption of the 1970 Miss World Pageant. There, she and fellow members of the Women’s Liberation Movement (one of whom is played by Jessie Buckley) make a ruckus that brings larger attention to how dehumanizing these pageants could be. This is especially affirmed when, moments before they begin their protest, the judges leisurely peruse the backsides of each contestant as part of assessing which of them deserve to be moved forward to the finals.

There is a decided lack of co-lead agitators of color represented as part of the protests, which is too bad. However, truly the best aspect of Misbehaviour is that we see co-stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Loreece Harrison, who play the first Black contestants from Granada and South Africa, navigate the pervasive racism that historically plagued beauty pageants. We also witness the changes that took place because activists and some members of the media took a stand. (*Note to media around the world: please continue to cover and call out injustice.) Both actresses are great, and upstage Knightly, which I suspect is smartly by design. There are multiple perspectives from older and younger women, white and Black women, and women of all social strata. In a small role as Bob Hope’s wife Dolores, Lesley Manville is spectacular, as usual.

For those interested in learning more about these historic events, there are lots of videos and articles available online, not least is one that actually shows the announcement of 1970’s Miss World winner. Those curious can see how closely the costuming matches those in real life, although watching the actual footage, they’ll also be struct by the fact that these women are standing onstage in bathing suits for what seems like a protracted amount of time. I can think of at least one world leader who would revel in a return of that kind of female exposure.

At its core, Misbehaviour is a crowd pleaser, and that’s a good thing. All over the world, things have been especially tough on women lately. The film also has strong, inspiring messages, mostly based in the idea that ‘well-behaved women rarely make history’, and that it is essential to upend the status quo if it keeps members of society down. Given recent events, crying jags might start back up before the end of the movie, such is the state of women’s rights, as they threaten to unravel. Perhaps it will move people of all ages and all genders to take action, and in the United States, at the very least, to vote.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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Leslie Combemale

Leslie Combemale writes as Cinema Siren on her own website, CinemaSiren.com, and is a frequent contributor to MPA's TheCredits.org, where she interviews filmmakers above and below the line, with a focus on women and diverse voices. She is the Senior Contributor at AWFJ.org. Leslie is in her 9th year as producer and moderator of the influential "Women Rocking Hollywood" panel at San Diego Comic-Con. She is a world-renowned expert on cinema art and her film art gallery, ArtInsights, located near DC, has celebrated cinema art and artists for 30 years.