(Misbehaviour – 12A, Runtime: 1h 46m, Starring: Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley, Keeley Hawes)

Come with me on a journey back to 1970, a much simpler time when women were judged on their looks and paraded for public consumption based on their genetic adherence to a society’s notion of facial symmetry, how ample their bosoms were and whether their bums looked nice in a swimsuit. How delightful Miss World must have been… wait, what? It’s a contest that is still being held annually? Oh. Oh dear.

So Misbehaviour, despite its period setting, is still depressingly relevant for a multitude of reasons, but you don’t need to read a middle-aged man to mansplain all of those. Briefly, my own view is that if you judge or demean or expect someone to behave a certain way because of their gender… you’re a bad bellend.

Misbehaviour’s loose recounting of the rise of the Women’s Liberation movement is portrayed in protests surrounding the 1970 edition of the Miss World contest. While not wholly factually accurate as Women’s Lib was birthed in previous years, the disruption of the contest did at least signify a change in awareness for the group in the UK, inspiring more to argue for a fairer society for the fairer sex.

And it is worth noting that Miss World was not some obscure televisual anomaly tucked away in the small hours of ITV’s schedules: almost 30 million people used to watch the event in the UK, with a global audience of over 100 million gawking at their screens like a pubescent boy encountering a lewd seaside postcard for the first time. As the saying sort of goes, sex, no matter how juvenile the construct, sells.

Interestingly, Misbehaviour isn’t entirely critical of the leering beauty pageant format. There is a pointed juxtaposition of the white contestants’ status alongside that of their black counterparts, and how the latter’s success within the contest would have an altogether different meaning in terms of altering social perceptions.

Layering the film in this way is both a positive and a negative. On the plus side, a balanced view rather than outright disgust shows a maturity and an openness to discourse that much of the modern mainstream media is now too often missing. However, broadening the scope is somewhat undone by the breezy nature of the film. As a film it is much more a chilled Sunday afternoon watch than a blistering, attention-grabbing, revelatory drama. 

With this tone the film still retains a feeling of being worthwhile and yet also scant, albeit not through any particular glaring, obvious fault in cinematic terms. The cast, led by two engaging performances by Jessie Buckley and Keira Knightley, is uniformly enjoyable. The script has pertinence as well as lighter comic touches. The period setting is well realised… and yet there’s a nagging feeling that the touchpoints are often too broad or too lightly touched upon, blunting much of the film’s incisiveness.

However, this in itself is not intended as a particularly scathing criticism: tackling a subject as layered as gender equality is always going to be a mammoth task, and much like the 1970 contest, is not just a black and white matter.

The existence of the film, which is on the whole well-constructed, is welcome. At least in its being, Misbehaviour offers a starting point for discussion and hopefully will encourage the audience it reaches, both male and female, to think about how their own behaviour and outlook might affect the women around them.

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