Still from the movie Misbehaviour. Source: IMDB - Misbehaviour (2020) Still from the movie Misbehaviour. Source: IMDB - Misbehaviour (2020)

Women’s liberation struggles deserve to be made into films, but Misbehaviour is not one of them says Penny Hicks

I always think that mainstream movies that portray protests and protesters in a positive light are a good thing. That ‘life doesn’t have to be like this’ is always a positive message.

Regrettably, that is the most positive thing about this film. Misbehaviour takes a superficial look at the plan to disrupt the 1970 Miss World contest in London.

Started as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951, the Miss World Beauty contest attracted huge TV viewing figures. Beauty contests were mainstream family entertainment in holiday camps and social clubs as well as on TV. Most towns held contests and many young women saw entering as a chance for a better life. Unbelievably the contest is still going today aided by Piers Morgan and the like. It was dropped by the BBC in 1988.

In 1970 the Miss World contest was a target for direct action, throwing stink and flour bombs at the stage by the newly forming Women’s Liberation Movement. The action, broadcast on live TV, was iconic and inspired, attracting headlines across the world.

I worked at a Mecca Bingo club and remember Miss World visiting to promote the game. The entourage was met with an angry protest by both club members and staff inspired by the 1970 action.

The film, written and directed by women with a majority female crew reminds us of the horror of the parading of women in swimsuits described by their breast and hip measurements. Whilst the film has snippets of sexist dialogue, in common use at the time, it makes us gasp and illustrates how far some behaviour has changed, the film is not a call to arms.

There is an attempt to overlay racial oppression and the racism experienced by the black contestants. The scene with the feminist, Sally, and Miss Grenada In the ladies’ loo tries to validate the competition as giving young black women bigger aspirations.

Even the title Misbehaviour had me gritting my teeth. The fight for women’s liberation and against women’s oppression being described as ‘misbehaviour’ is patronising in the extreme. Or is there some irony I’m missing?

I attended an afternoon showing in a deserted cinema, don’t break your self-isolation to watch it.