Directed by: Philippa Lowthorpe – Starring: Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, Keeley Hawes, Phyllis Logan, Lesley Manville, Rhys Ifans, Greg Kinnear
You could be forgiven for thinking that distributors planned the release of this in the same week that sexual predator, Harvey Weinstein, was sentenced to 23 years in jail, but truth be told, these releases are planned so far in advance that they couldn’t have known.
However, it does feel timely that this account of a group of Women’s Liberation activists’ protests, against the 1970 Miss World contest, lands in such a monumental week for the #metoo movement and women.
Bear in mind that, although nowadays the Miss World winner may be a footnote in news reports, back in 1970 this was a huge event that garnered worldwide interest, and front pages, and it was also considered family entertainment, drawing huge viewing figures.
The group were protesting at what they saw as the objectification of the contestants. They were aghast at the idea that women’s worth seemed to hinge on their looks. However, alongside their grievances, that year’s contest was a political hotbed, as organisers were accused of racism, resulting in two contestants from South Africa appearing. And ultimately, Miss Grenada was crowned winner, making her the first black woman ever to take the title, which also wasn’t without its controversies, since the Prime Minister of her country was one of the judges.
I think you can agree that’s a lot to try and fit into a 106-minute film! Yet Lowthorpe somehow manages it.
She juxtaposes nicely between the contestants and the activists, so you clearly see both sides of the argument. The contestants are all ambitious young women, who want to make a difference and change their lives, and are, if not happy, prepared to parade around in a bikini to achieve that. Meanwhile, the activists want to create a more equal world, where they can be judged on their merits without having to dress provocatively.
Representing the old guard are Eric Morley (Ifans) who created the Miss World, and still adheres to the 1950s ideals of what is acceptable, and legendary comic actor, Bob Hope (Kinnear), who sees nothing wrong with double-entendres and inappropriate flirtations. By modern standards, these characters are cringe-worthy, but even in 1970 they were dinosaurs , which is somewhat comforting.
Knightley and Buckley prove a great double-act as women’s libbers, Sally Alexander and Jo Robinson, and Mbatha-Raw brings a lot of depth and dignity to Jennifer Hosten, that year’s eventual winner.
However, look out for Suki Waterhoouse in a smaller role, as Miss America, Sandra Wolsfeld. She is funny and engaging in every scene she is in.
Despite the politics behind this story, it never gets bogged down, and it is extremely humorous even in serious moments. The many different elements to the tale keep you engaged, ensure that it never gets boring, and it is very well paced.
The look of the 1970s has been recreated fabulously, and the attention to detail in the recreation of the Miss World contest is astonishing. In fact, the only thing really missing is the soundtrack of the era. It would have been nice to have some of that year’s music peppered throughout, to further create atmosphere.
This manages to tell a historic tale without ever feeling like a nostalgia-fest. Perhaps that is because the story still feels pretty contemporary, given the amount of protests pertaining to women’s rights in recent years.
It has a lot of depth, and is extremely thought-provoking, but never becomes tedious. This is thanks in no small part to the smorgasbord of colourful characters, who are all the better since they are based on real-life people.
This is a solid flick that is definitely worth a look.
In Cinemas Now! Trailer below: