Misbehaviour – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Directed by Phillipa Lowthorpe

Written by Rebecca Frayn & Gaby Chiappe

Beauty with a Purpose,’ was the slogan for the longest-running beauty pageant, Miss World; one which didn’t come into effect until around 30 years after the contest’s conception. This saw the addition of intelligence and personality ‘points’ to deter from the previous, purely aesthetic decisions in judging. Misbehaviour from director Phillipa Lowthorpe focuses on the catalyst which sparked this change in the pageant.

Miss World 1970 is fresh from record-high viewership the previous year, and a group from the Women’s Liberation plan on disrupting the event. Begrudgingly at first, history student Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) joins Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley) in an attempt to draw attention to the abusive control of the patriarchy, and how the objectification of the women involved in the contest reinforces this for future generations. All the while the pageant dodges controversy, threats and attempts to secure legendary American comic Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) to host the event.

Here we stumble on the first step, which is the heft of capability with this cast; so much that our attentions are spread. Just as a scene or interaction builds to an investable conclusion, there’s another plotline which needs addressing. Kinnear, who perhaps has the trickiest task as Bob Hope, attempts to offer dimensions to the role, but there isn’t enough screen time for the presence to sink in. It’s an amiable performance, a canny likeness, but Kinnear is only able to capture the misogyny, not the man attempting to live up to his notoriety. Revelling in the raffish attitude is Rhys Ifans, as Eric Morley, ‘Mr Miss World’, alongside Keeley Hawes as his wife Julia. Ifans is hammy, even by his standards, but it works due to Morley’s attitude, his larger than life persona.

Pitching itself as following the formation, and propelling the coverage of, the Women’s Liberation movement, Misbehaviour intends on also showcasing a semi-biographic of Bob Hope, Eric and Julia Morley and Jennifer Hosten, Miss Grenada. All stories worth their salt, but the division means little weight sits on the shoulders of analysis; there isn’t time to invest, to hate or to cherish these characters. Particularly so in the case of Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who offers much promise as Hosten in the brief, but invested, snippet scenes she shares with Knightley. 

Overly considerate, Misbehaviour seems a little too British for its own good. Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe’s script leans towards the pleasantly accessible in focus, rather than the bold. It doesn’t follow its narrative journey, that while the women in the film know where to draw out the big guns, the filmmakers seem to try and concentrate on finesse for comedy and whopping out the sledgehammers for commentary, achieving neither.  

There is though, a cleverness to aspects of the screenplay, particularly in the reinforcement of allegories drawn between the objectification of women and reflective attitudes. Had this been maintained throughout, Misbehaviour could have been a spectacular comedy-drama. From the hopeful’s measurements, their constant corralling on stage and off, and the numbered discs present on the women’s wrists and ‘rump cam’ shots, Frayn and Chiappe build on this image of the contest as a cattle market. 

It’s perhaps a backhanded compliment, but there’s little inherently wrong with Lowthorpe’s film. On the whole, Misbehaviour’s intentions are admirable, and for the bulk of the film the humour balances, the interpretations of people are held throughout, but there’s a division in narrative arcs. Everything feels three-quarters full, that there’s more emotion to draw out and deeper connections to be made. Sitting at just under two hours, Misbehaviour could have easily held an audience for a further fifteen minutes, even half an hour, which would allow the film to serve as a tribute to all of those involved, rather than the couple we hone in on.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/misbehaviour/

Spotlights & Spirits – A Retrospective on Joan Crawford

Lucille Fay LeSueur started as a dancer for a variety of travelling shows, elevating her way to chorus girl, and would go by LeSueur until her time with MGM, where Joan Crawford would emerge as a prominent force on the Hollywood scene. One of the ‘symbols’ of the studio gals, with the likes of Judy Garland or Claudette Colbert, Crawford would make her first ‘debut’ in ‘Lady of The Night’ (1925) as a body double, her breakout alongside Horror legend Lon Chaney in the 1927 horror film ‘The Unknown’ and her film final appearance in a British sci-fi film entitled ‘Trog’ (1970), a bizarre climax to a turbulent career.

What became clear, was that no one was going to hand Crawford her spotlight. Joan Crawford made herself a star. With a career which spanned six decades of cinema, across every conceivable genre, Crawford was no stranger to stirring the Golden Age pot, shaking up the system and grinding against her co-stars. A woman of insurmountable talent, of keen independence, though not from the bottle, her life was nothing short of how she would be remembered onscreen – dramatic.

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Moving on from her uncredited, underpaid roles, Crawford set about with a determination which would draw the eye of a studio, notably MGM. Dancing across the city at competitions, hotels and pier ends, it didn’t take long before catching the eyes of the public in ‘Sally, Irene and Mary’ (1925). Crossing a diversity of genres, notable for her casting switches between the unsympathetic esteemed woman of wealth, she was equally capable of portraying hard-working youngsters, Crawford’s scope was wide. Finally receiving her Oscar in 1945 for ‘Mildred Pierce’, a noir crime-drama which irrefutably demonstrates how subdued, competent and versatile Crawford was, despite her image as a hectic, frantic woman.

There consisted two extreme images of Crawford; one, the monochrome star of Hollywood, the definition of a flapper girl, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s own words, who would become known for her pathos driven roles which would enhance the foundation of a film’s success. And that of the ice-queen with bigger moxy than the men around her, harbouring an attitude to match. Four marriages, three divorces, five adopted children, two of which would become estranged, and a well-established abusive relationship with alcohol, Crawford was a magnet for press attention – which tragically would stem beyond her onscreen talents, and into her personal life.

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“I’ll Never Tell Mommy”, the ‘tell-all’ book published by daughter Christina Crawford was a book which would tarnish her mother’s already shaky legacy. Her cinematic achievements untouchable, her personal life and difficulties were up for grabs. Friends come and go, enemies accumulate, and no one in Hollywood, then or now, seems to have attracted such rivalry as Crawford. Fans of the recent masterpiece television series ‘Feud’ (2017) will recall the glaring animosity between Crawford and Bette Davis. Far from the first, Crawford’s infamy with frostiness tards her co-stars would begin with Norma Shearer after (loudly) complaining about how she was ever to complete with someone who was sleeping with the director.

Despite the solitary image, Crawford was at the height of her ability when poised against a commendable co-star. Arguably a necessity to be pushed, many of Crawford’s striking roles are actually alongside others, what leaps to many is obvious – ‘Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?’ (1962) with the equally craft-defining Davis. Other notable roles, even minor, extend to Johnny Guitar and a lesser, though shaping part, in “Sudden Fear” (1950), where Crawford’s inclusion within the narrative alters the entire dynamic of femininity.

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Returning to Baby Jane, a role synonymous with Crawford’s ‘return’ to mainstream audiences and the performance attached to her career for movie buffs everywhere. The Robert Aldrich film may not have netted her the Academy Award nomination, much to Davis’ great pleasure, but the psychologically intimidating, yet camp, black comedy performance has its merits. Particularly, despite Davis serving up the film’s meatier parts, Crawford exhibits a talent for suffering, a pathos of silence and holding her ground in what is deemed a ‘passive’ role.

Going beyond the well-known, notable inclusions worth watching in the Crawford library are ‘The Women’ (1939), ‘A Woman’s Face’ (1941), ‘Daisy Kenyon’ (1947) and ‘Sudden Fear’ (1952). The Women was a step against the grind for Crawford, it was a co-starring role which was planned to rebuke the ‘Hollywood poison’, but it was an embracement of what Crawford symbolised, the Hollywood outsider, the shaker-upper of the status-quo and she capitalised on this, incorporating it into her performance.

“A Woman’s Face” marked Crawford’s progression into a subtler form of expression, where her emotional changes were not highlighted as such to the audience but nuanced and natural. It was an insight into the actresses growth, adapting to the criticism around her, but on her terms – not theirs.

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Plain and simply; Joan Crawford IS Hollywood; the doe-eyed ambition of youth, lustful at the allure of the spotlight, then just as the studio cuts the power, Crawford encapsulates the raw yearning for what once was, the ‘washed out’ star who served as a ‘warning’ to women who put career before all else. Joan Crawford was the lifelong role played by Lucille LeSueur, the permanent armour she wore in life to remind those who abused her as a child that she would survive the trials and burn up the industry. From box-office poison to one of American cinema’s most impressionable and talented stars, a gay icon and legacy – if there was ever a performer who knew how to play the show business game – it was Lucille LeSueur, and boy, how she played it.

Article originally published for In Their Own League: https://intheirownleague.com/2020/03/18/spotlights-spirits-a-retrospective-on-joan-crawford/

Banff Mountain Film Festival – Festival Theatre

For many years now a Canadian treat has found itself a warm home in the centre of Edinburgh, as the Festival Theatre hosts the Banff Mountain Film Festival in the shadow of our very own Arthur’s Seat. An international film competition, originating back in 1976 from the Canadian town of Banff, Alberta, the Mountain Film Festival celebrates upwards of 300 films, whittling them down to a final competing set which tours globally.

Promoting two spectacular programmes, labelled Red & Blue, Banff Mountain Film Festival moves from a simple evening affair into an experience for the whole day/weekend. This evening, witnessing the Red programme first-hand it cannot be stressed how envious you feel knowing others in the theatre were smart enough to catch both programmes. An evening of accomplished filmmakers captures the mind-boggling intensity of human endurance, far-flung cultures, and on occasion, our compassion towards one another and the environment around us.

There’s little which can be gained in reviewing the films showcased at the event, as the quality of each is superb. What is striking, however, is the variety in which the audience find themselves sampling. If onlookers view this as an event purely for the climbers, extreme sports fanatics or hikers – you couldn’t be more mistaken. Banff has polished their festival into a welcoming environment, with brief, but efficient live interludes to introduce film segments and handle this evening’s most important aspect; giveaways.

Particular highlights which, in essence, capture the event’s atmosphere spectacularly are the found in Danny Day Care, Reel Rock: Up to Speed and a near feature-length tour edit of Sarah Outen’s four-year journey across the globe. A tremendous piece, not only as an example of the human condition but of time-lapse film making keeps the audience on tenterhooks for the entirety of the film. Other films provide a fount of knowledge, both for the accomplished enthusiast and those of us spooked by the heights – and on occasion, a whole heap of unexpected hilarity. 

It isn’t all about the big-budget however, select small-scale productions still invigorate a sense of adventure, containing the sort of fear-inducing stunts which would panic any mother. Celebrating dedication, Thabang offers an account of Thabang Madiba’s dedication and eventual pay-off, becoming the first black South African to represent the country in running. Touching, with multiple first-hand interviews, it’s an accomplished piece which opens our eyes to sporting legends and competitors we hadn’t known existed. 

Still, at the heart of it all there’s an element of business, but a tasteful display rather than corporate. Transforming the festival into a full-blown event, people taking inspiration from there films, or even just keen beginners can find merchandise for Banff themselves, and the occasional piece from other suppliers and sponsors of the events.

Whirring, it transforms the Festival Theatre in a peculiar way not traditionally associated by many of the traditional theatre crowd. An award-winning lineup, with an award-winning team of producers, runners, hosts and event staff – there’s little wonder why the Banff Mountain Film Festival draws in a diverse crowd of eager film watchers into Edinburgh, finding itself as an annual tradition awaiting discovery for many more.

Tickets for the Banff Mountain Film Festival can be found at: https://www.banff-uk.com/tickets

Banff Mountain Film Festival finishes it’s Scottish tour in Glasgow King’s Theatre on February 25th