In her latest film THE MIS-CHOICE Director Philippa Lowthorpe takes an insightful, awakening, but by no means heavy-handed look behind the scenes of the very beauty pageant that was hijacked by a group of women’s activists in the early 1970s. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Misbehavior (UK/FR 2020)
London, 1970: Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) is fed up with being constantly discriminated against as a woman. For her, the annual “Miss World” competition in particular symbolizes an outdated image of women. Together with the rebellious Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley), she wants to draw public attention to the grievances in society. Meanwhile, the participants of the upcoming pageant arrive and prepare for the TV event of the year – 100 million viewers are expected to watch the show hosted by comedian Bop Hope (Greg Kinnear) on their television sets worldwide. While outsider Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha Raw) and her competitors practice posing in swimsuits, the “Women’s Liberation Movement” around Sally and Jo hatches a plan that will finally wake up the world…
It is in keeping with the current zeitgeist that filmmakers are increasingly addressing gender-related injustice. This happens sometimes from the perspective of an individual fate (“Colette”), then again as an all-encompassing portrait of a specific grievance (“Suffragette”). Director Philippa Lowthorpe beats director Philippa Lowthorpe with her drama “The Miss Pageant,” based on true events (“Call the Midwife”) and her screenwriters Rebecca Frayn (“The Lady – A Heart Divided”) and Gaby Chiappe (“Your Finest Hour”) now in the same notch. The focus is once again on the appeal for female self-determination, based on a Miss World election in London in the early 1970s. It’s not so much about questioning the principle of a beauty contest based on questionable ideals; As easy as that would be if you see how the organizers constantly expose themselves to misogyny during their show. The filmmakers are much more subtle in their criticism, not only examining the surface stimuli for scandalous effects, but also daring to look at the other side of the coin – a pageant like this is indeed an examination of the flesh, but that is precisely why it is significant for some participants a step towards self-determination. Quite a paradox.
After ‘redesigning’ a poster, Jo (Jessie Buckley) flees the police with Sally (Keira Knightley).
When Keira Knightley’s film daughter dances exuberantly in front of the television at the beginning of “The Missing Election” and watches the beautiful women as they walk down the catwalk in amazement, then this scene contains a large part of the thematic complexity that characterizes the film as a whole. Sally, who is familiar with the background and processes of such a pageant, just shakes her head at the young girl and wants to get her away from the television set so that she doesn’t witness the media exploitation of female bodies at such a young age. It goes without saying that she finds all the young women simply beautiful to look at – but at her young age there is automatically a risk of having the wrong (body) role model. Meanwhile, at the other end of the living room sits Sally’s mother, who sees at best excessive concern in her daughter’s rigorous rejection of the beauty circus, but sees no problems in the models’ pageant presentation. It’s always been that way. Three generations, three different reactions to what is shown: fascination, disgust and indifference – and as “The Miss Election” progresses, even more are added, of which at best the misogynistic organizers and moderators can be clearly assigned to one side; those who sacrifice women for a form of entertainment that is still well served by the term “meat inspection”.
“Three generations, three different reactions to what is shown: fascination, disgust and indifference – and as “The Miss Election” progresses, even more are added.”
Now it would have been easy for the filmmaker to stage “The Miss Election” as a banal battle of good versus evil; the “good” is embodied by the activists who want to infiltrate the pageant, and the “evil” is represented by the organizers, whose supposedly smug comments are at best offensive and at worst a crude devaluation of the female gender. But such a pageant has a downside – for some of the candidates for the title of “Miss World” who come from far away, the right to have their own bodies evaluated by strange men means a form of self-determination. Something you have to let sink in first. Because even if you don’t suddenly come up with the idea of completely questioning the concept of the beauty pageant (in “The Miss Election” there are enough scenes on their own that make the motivation of the group of women clear at all times and make it seem correct), that’s how it is It is particularly important to the filmmakers to report comprehensively on this topic, which always ends with the problem of a patriarchal society. That makes “The Miss Election” no less powerful, but all the more warm-hearted and also quite entertaining.
The Miss World participants, here Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), are measured.
Due to the many different narrative perspectives, “The Miss Election” is not only pleasantly entertaining with a running time of 106 minutes, but also works its way through various genres; all with a different tonal focus. When the activists prepare their appearance at the Miss World pageant in the best heist movie style, there are definitely funny moments that arise simply from the interaction between the women. Keira Knightley (“Official Secrets”) mimes the committed but equally rational activist who can show new perspectives to women who are sometimes stuck in their patterns and views (for example, she is the one who comes up with the idea of involving the media directly in her plan – because how can anyone benefit from the action if you want to avoid working with the media?). Jessie Buckley (“I’m Thinking of Ending Things”) as an impulsive counterpart who prefers to act first and think later, combines the self-sacrificing willingness of the group, which itself risks a lot of reputation, in one person and creates some exciting points of friction with Knightley.
“Due to the many different narrative perspectives, “The Miss Election” is not only pleasantly entertaining with a running time of 106 minutes, but also works its way through various genres; all with a different tonal focus.”
But “The Miss Election” is also a classic drama that makes some strong statements with the perspective of the participants. And last but not least, Philippa Lowthorpe can even get some gentle crime and satire elements from her film. The latter in particular are so deeply rooted in reality that laughter quickly gets stuck in your throat. Because the dialogues that seem so pointed here are sometimes taken one-to-one from reality.
Conclusion: Keira Knightley fights for female self-determination – and director Philippa Lowthorpe turns this cause into an equally powerful and warm-hearted screen event. On the one hand, she exposes the mechanisms of the beauty industry, but she also sincerely dedicates herself to all those for whom this industry is more than just entertainment.
“The Miss Election” can be seen in USA cinemas from October 1st.