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Keira Knightley as Sally Alexander and Jessie Buckley as Jo Robinson in Misbehaviour.

Parisa Taghizadeh/Courtesy of Shout! Studio

  • Misbehaviour
  • Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe
  • Written by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe
  • Starring Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Greg Kinnear
  • Classification 14A; 106 minutes

rating

2 out of 4 stars


Late in Misbehaviour, a typically British get-up-and-go story of crowd-pleasing feel-goodery, Oxford-educated women’s liberation advocate Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) has a heart-to-heart with newly crowned Miss World Jennifer Hosten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The two encounter each other backstage in London just after the 1970 Miss World competition goes completely off the rails, with Alexander’s group of activists interrupting the live telecast over its sexist attitude and Grenada’s Hosten winning the crown in a remarkable upset to the racists who would have preferred she stay home.

The two women are there for different reasons but are not exactly at cross-purposes. They both want to make the world a better place for women and young girls, even if, as Alexander sighs, society is “making us compete with each other.”

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Gugu Mbatha-Raw, centre, stars as Miss Grenada, Jennifer Hosten.

Parisa Taghizadeh/Courtesy of Shout! Studio

It is either a startling moment of self-acknowledged defeat by director Philippa Lowthorpe or an unintentional nudge toward why Misbehaviour doesn’t work. By splitting her story into three unsatisfying pillars – one story following Alexander’s activists, another chronicling Hosten’s experience, and the third looking at how American TV’s favourite sexist dinosaur Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) got roped into the proceedings – Lowthorpe has done just what her heroines hoped to avoid. Misbehaviour is a film that makes its characters compete with each other for screen time and resonance and social messaging. Ultimately, no one goes home a winner.

Which is unfortunate for a number of reasons. First: Aside from stars Knightley, Mbatha-Raw and a nicely slimy Kinnear, Lowthorpe has assembled a murderer’s row of supporting actors to fill out her tale of Miss World 1970′s implosion. There’s Jessie Buckley as Alexander’s fellow activist Jo Robinson, Rhys Ifans as Miss World’s British impresario, Lesley Manville as Hope’s exhausted wife Dolores, and on and on. Each performer tries their best to inject the material with energy and wit and verve, but Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe’s script has too many threads to weave together, leaving everyone looking a bit stranded.

And for a film, and cultural moment, that ostensibly pivoted on intersectionality, the fact that Alexander’s side of the story, filled with well-educated white women fighting for a common cause, gets considerably more attention than Hosten’s seems disingenuous at best. Bob Hope does get it good, though.

Misbehaviour is available digitally on-demand starting Sept. 25

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