VOD film review: Misbehaviour
Charlotte Harrison | On 15, Apr 2020
Director: Philippa Lowthorpe
Cast: Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, Keeley Hawes, Phyllis Logan, Lesley Manville, Rhys Ifans, Greg Kinnear
There’s enough to like about Misbehaviour. It’s a beautifully constructed period drama that captures the 50 shades of brown that the 1970s were best known for. The costumes are sublime, with the recreations of some of the Miss World Costumes looking particularly stitch-for-stich perfect. Most memorably, there’s a cast that reads a rollcall of beloved British and Irish actors: Kiera Knightley, Jessie Buckley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keeley Hawes, Lesley Manville and Rhys Ifans. However, that list of impeccable talent ends up being something of a poisoned chalice, with the film trying to tell the stories of so many characters within a running time just over 100 minutes.
The film follows the run-up to, and events of, the 1970 Miss World competition by flitting between four strands of the event, to varying effect. There’s the newly formed Women’s Liberation Movement, which plans to storm the stage during the live final at the Royal Albert Hall (Knightley & Buckley), there are the event organisers (Hawes and Ifans), Bob Hope (played by Greg Kinnear) and his wary wife (Manville), and lastly the competitors at the heart of it (Mbatha-Raw).
It’s ambitious wanting to tell these stories, many of which are very important and reveal much about gender politics in the 1970s, and yet it all feels too neat and convenient, weaving these storylines to make a cosy cardigan of a movie that feels like it should be more riotous and misbehaving. Adhering to the feel-good formula is all well and good but doesn’t make for the most powerful or memorable story. Hopping between so many characters reduces the individual character development but also limits the potency of their voices. While it might be about feminism, this isn’t necessarily a feminist film; the dialogue does occasionally mention feminist issues, such as motherhood and beauty, but it feels more like a tick-box exercise than a rage against the (patriarchal) machine.
Formulaic, familiar and farcical – Misbehaviour is the kind of movie Sunday afternoons were made for.