Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

"Apart from the women/cattle cliche it is difficult to tell where the dagger of disapproval is directed."

Before Harvey Weinstein's conviction in New York of single-minded indulgence of a sexual nature with younger actresses and almost anyone who moved and #MeToo, sweeping the sensibility of women worldwide, beauty contests were seen as frivolous fun, masquerading as the glorification of the female form, a living breathing tribute to what artists had been doing for centuries. "Sexist" as a word entered the vocab late. Now it's as deeply entrenched as "swine" (not the male pig).

In the Sixties, the big one was Miss World, created by Eric Morley using Mecca ballrooms and an enthusiastic TV audience, although light entertainment snobs considered it a fitting example of Mr Tacky's day at the races on a par with Eurovision as a game show spin-off, or spin somewhere disruptive and dismal. Sooner rather than later there will be a backlash, it was predicted, and so, in 1970 members of Women's Lib, which had only just arrived on the scene, cracked the whip by throwing bog rolls from the cheap seats and shouting insults from the stalls.

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Apart from the women/cattle cliche it is difficult to tell where the dagger of disapproval is directed. Morley, as played by Rhys Ifans, appears intentionally incompetent desperately trying to keep the show on the road while the Libbers are leaderless and uncertain where to go next. Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley) is loud and northern and wants to make things happen - what things? Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) on the other hand is shy, intelligent and on her own, the product of a privileged upbringing, posh but not lost. She makes no demands of her fellow liberators and yet she's the one you want to stay with.

Bob Hope was employed as comic relief, capable of misogynistic quips in the worst possible taste. He is played by Greg Kinnear so badly that you feel sorry for the ever wonderful Lesley Manville who suffers the role of Mrs (No) Hope, stuck in her hotel room like a prisoner of war.

The real story hides behind Sally and Jo's battle for gender respect. It's about skin colour. South Africa sent two contestants, one black, one white. The former came second. The latter didn't get a mention. The winner, also black, was from Grenada, a country so small it defied recognition.

In every respect this should have been an important film and yet despite acting of quality, especially from the women, it fumbles and fidgets from a position of strength to an outcome that can only be called messy.

Reviewed on: 14 Mar 2020
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A group of women targets the 1970 Miss World beauty competition.
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Director: Philippa Lowthorpe

Writer: Rebecca Frayn, Rebecca Frayn, Gaby Chiappe

Starring: Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keeley Hawes, Charlotte Spencer, Suki Waterhouse, Greg Kinnear, Rhys Ifans, Phyllis Logan, Lesley Manville, Alexa Davies, Emma Corrin, Lily Newmark, John Heffernan, Katy Carmichael

Year: 2020

Runtime: 106 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, France


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