The first things that struck me while watching this endearing drama of burgeoning feminism is, how difficult it must have been to recreate the populous scenario of London in 1970. And yet how easy the director makes it look! As if she was not a mere observer but also a participant in the bra-burning blitzkrieg.
The easiest way of recreating an era gone-by is by positioning songs from that era on the soundtrack. Misbehaviour avoids the clichés of a period drama while embracing them wholeheartedly. It gives us characters which do not pretend to be individuals just to defy the constraints of representational projection. And yet each of the 50-55 people who walk into the film, as though by birthright, simply own their characters.
The film recreates the big 1970 Miss World beauty pageant in London which made world headlines when a group of feminist protesters disrupted the event to raise slogans and squirt toy pistols at the organizers for objectifying women.
There are so many aspects to the storytelling which win one’s approval. The plot, while siding with those who stand against the body-ogling that characterizes beauty pageants, also makes room for us to know the beauty contestants first-hand. Foremost among them is Miss Grenada a beautiful woman of colour played by Gugu Mbatha- Raw (who was equally enticing in the love story Beyond The Lights). The bond that she forms in the dying moments of the film with women’s libber Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) will stay with you long after all the beautiful ladies have walked that ramp.
Astonishingly Rebecca Frayn’s story subsumes a multitude of voices from clashing generations to show how attitudes to patriarchy and feminism have changed and yet remained inflexible over the years. Watch out for an extremely nuanced performance by the distinguished Leslie Manville(Mike Leigh’s regular heroine) playing Mrs Bob Hope. Like most of the other actors in this wonderfully vibrant look at an era of tremendous gender conflict, Ms Manville says so much in so little space.
As expected the screenplay is not exactly fair to the male characters. Legendary actor Bob Hope (played brilliantly by George Kinnear) comes across as hopelessly and despicably chauvinistic. This is a film about women with the female actors dazzling the hell out of us viewers. Misbehaviour achieves far more than it seems to. It is warm, funny, poignant and quite simply—and I do mean simply—effective.
Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, Misbehaviour gets 3 stars.
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