Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, Greg Kinnear
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…so well acted, and moves at such a sure pace that it manages to be very watchable.
With its puntastically catchy title and solid Brit acting cast, this drama about beauty contests is bound to find an audience. Not just any contest, but Miss World, which was such a phenomenon in the 1970s (when this movie is set) and when the televised event attracted an audience as big as the World Cup or, even, the moon landing.
Clearly, something was appealing to people, and it wasn’t just the men enjoying the swimsuit section; it actually managed to capture female imaginations too. Was it indoctrination or aspiration? Some of these debates are gently explored in the film, although mostly, it is a rousing tale of early women’s lib told in that very British way –a feminist version of the ensemble piece Calendar Girls if you will.
The film is based on a true story and follows the journey of Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley at her goofy best), an academic type who is woke to the sexual politics of the contest. She has a good turn of phrase explaining to uncomprehending men that the only way a being can be judged purely on its looks is at a cattle market. Sally joins a hippyish women’s collective based in Islington, London and there she meets the feisty activist Jo (another winning performance from Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose, Chernobyl)). Along with others, they decide to sneak into the contest and stage a protest. As indeed they did.
The film updates things a little by introducing racial politics. Miss Grenada (played by rising star Gugu Mbatha-Raw) actually puts value on what she is doing. When, in a slightly contrived meeting, she encounters Sally, she makes her point about using the contest to be an inspiration for black girls. She also tells the freewheeling and confidently white Sally that she would love to have her choices.
The film doesn’t hold any real surprises and we know from the start whose side we are meant to be on, but it is so well acted, and moves at such a sure pace that it manages to be very watchable.