Keira Knightley as Sally Alexander in Philippa Lowthorpe’s Misbehaviour: “I had the most wonderful costume designer, Charlotte Walter …”
Misbehaviour, screenplay by Gaby Chiappe and Rebecca Frayn, is Philippa Lowthorpe’s take on the 1970 Miss World pageant, staged at London’s Royal Albert Hall, hosted by Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) and the protests led by the newly created Women’s Liberation Front with Keira Knightley as Sally Alexander and Jessie Buckley as Jo Robinson. Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Miss Grenada, Jennifer Hosten; Emma Corrin is Miss South Africa, Jillian Jessup; Loreece Harrison is Miss Africa South, Pearl Jansen; Clara Rosager is Miss Sweden Marjorie Johansson, and Suki Waterhouse is Miss United States, Sandra Wolsfeld. Pageant organisers Eric and Julia Morley are played by Rhys Ifans and Keeley Hawes. Lesley Manville gives Bob Hope’s long-suffering wife Dolores a potent mix of resignation and spite.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Miss Grenada, Jennifer Hosten - 1970 Miss World
In Little Gidding, TS Eliot writes “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language / And next year’s words await another voice.” Misbehaviour shows us 1970 as the perfect in-between. Such a moment when ideas were shifting, not yet arriving anywhere concrete. The Miss World broadcast is riddled with contradictions, simultaneously opening up TV viewers’ horizons on questions of race, while having Bob Hope make his casually misogynistic jokes.
Conflicts of mothers and daughters and granddaughters, agency and ownership, bodies and souls - over half a century later many of the issues have been dressed in new clothes and addressed in new ways, with a lot still to be done on all fronts, as neither sexism nor racism have been laid to rest. (Films like Giorgio Serafini’s Senior Moment with William Shatner and Christopher Lloyd are still being made unapologetically, with only senility as an impaired defence.)
After the Sea Change Film Festival virtual screening of Misbehaviour on the eve of International Women’s Day, Philippa Lowthorpe participated in a live discussion and Q&A, hosted by Matt Kitson of Driftwood Cinema and moderated by festival director Jen Skinner.
Dolores Hope (Lesley Manville) and Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear)
Checking out the festival from the Hebrides while sitting in my living room in New York City, I sent in the following comments and questions.
Anne-Katrin Titze: Clothing is never just clothing. Please talk about how you worked on the very original costume design!
Philippa Lowthorpe: Well, I had the most wonderful costume designer, Charlotte Walter, who has just won the BIFA for best costume for Misbehaviour and is on the long list for the BAFTA as well. She is a brilliant costume designer. What I loved about Charlotte’s work is that she always thinks about how real it should be. How can we make this most authentic and the most real it could possibly be while maintaining the wit and humour and fun and the sort of vivid nature of those clothes.
So she really was going for authenticity and I think that’s what’s so lovely about her work. They feel like clothes, they don’t feel like costumes. And then when it came to the actual event, the actual Miss World, she copied the actual costumes that the girls wore and had them made. She actually went for real realism during that time.
And another lovely thing is, Jennifer Hosten herself, she lent us one of the dresses that she wore in real life. The gold lamé jumpsuit thing that Gugu [Mbatha-Raw] wears was the real thing that Jennifer actually wore. And I remember it arriving in this box in our production offices and thinking this was like gold dust. And taking out this beautiful crocheted, gold crocheted garment which we had to look after with our lives.
AKT: What a remarkable casting choice for Bob Hope [Greg Kinnear is such a counterintuitive choice]! Did you make up his quips or were they his?
PL: They were very much based on Bob Hope’s real language but we … The writers twisted them - not twisted them, but altered them to fit into the drama. Some of the ones, like when he goes “moo” and stuff like that in the event, they are all very true. And all the sexist jokes about cattle market and stuff are very much taken from what he really said.
In fact, if you go on YouTube you can look up Bob Hope Miss World and you can see him getting showered with flour and saying all those terrible things. The writers had to make them, to massage them into a way they could be used in the script. But they’re very much in the spirit of what he would have said.