Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir Philippa Lowthorpe
scr Rebecca Frayn, Gaby Chiappe
prd Suzanne Mackie, Sarah Wheale
with Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Greg Kinnear, Lesley Manville, Rhys Ifans, Keeley Hawes, Phyllis Logan, Loreece Harrison, John Heffernan, Suki Waterhouse, Clara Rosager
release UK 13.Mar.20
20/UK Pathe 1h46

mbatha-raw kinnear manville

buckley and knightley
Based on a true story, this lively British drama tackles enormous issues that have powerful echoes half a century later. It's set at a point in history when the idealism of the 1960s took root in activism, sparking cultural shifts that are still growing today. With vivid characters and pointed situations, the film keeps the audience entertained while reminding us that the battle for equality is still being fought.
In 1970 London, the organisers of Miss World (Ifans and Hawes) worked to make the pageant more ethnically diverse, then hired the misogynistic Bob Hope (Kinnear) as host. And non-white contestants from Grenada and South Africa (Mbatha-Raw and Harrison) are top contenders for the crown. Meanwhile, history student Sally (Knightley) gets involved with a group of female rights activists led by Jo (Buckley), and they decide to stage a protest at Miss World, both demonstrating in the streets and infiltrating the audience to demand that women are judged on the same basis as men.
The script keeps the themes simmering in each conversation. These pageants were designed to objectify women, but they also reflect how society still teaches girls to look sexy and beautiful as they serve the men around them. Yes, the ideas may seem cartoonish in retrospect, but the chilling truth is that the underlying attitudes haven't changed much. And if anything, race-based bigotry often feels even worse in real life than as depicted here.

Each actor finds real depth in her role, with Knightley and Buckley making a terrific double-act: women who struggle to find common ground but agree where it counts. Their banter is relaxed and funny, both with each other and the others in their respective circles. Kinnear bravely takes on a predatory male role without flinching, while Manville (as Hope's wife Dolores) adds some stinging observations of her own. And Logan is also strong as Sally's old-school mother, who struggles to see her daughter's point.

The story works on a variety of fronts, making it feel a little constructed to address every aspect of the topic. But each angle is both entertaining and insightful. Perhaps the strongest element is backstage with the beauty contestants, as they pursue their dreams in full knowledge of what this means. This side of the film is a little more understated, allowing Mbatha-Raw, Harrison, Waterhouse and others to find some delicate subtext. And it all comes together in a terrific coda that reveals these strong, important women in all their glory.

cert 12 themes, language 12.Feb.20

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