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Misbehaviour: a version of events that is a little too neat and tidy

Cert: 12A; Now showing

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Keira Knightley and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in a scene from Misbehaviour

Keira Knightley and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in a scene from Misbehaviour

Emma Roberts in The Hunt

Emma Roberts in The Hunt

Barry Keogh in Calm With Horses

Barry Keogh in Calm With Horses

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Keira Knightley and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in a scene from Misbehaviour

There is something a little off about Keira Knightley, an actress moneyed to the hilt in cosmetic endorsements, starring in a story that trades in the oppressive history of beauty ideals. Nonetheless, we must put such things to the side going into Misbehaviour, a spirited UK film which tells of the fledgling women's lib movement that bombarded the 1970 Miss World competition in London's Royal Albert Hall.

There are indeed moments in Philippa Lowthorpe's film that begin to raise it above the obvious own-goal that such a premise serves up in these times. The problem is there aren't enough of them.

It all takes place of course in the age of unreconstructed patriarchy, where concepts of women being paid equally and aspiring to positions in society higher than housewives or eye-candy are the stuff of make-believe. Meanwhile, the Miss World show is the biggest thing on the box, beloved globally by men and women alike.

Knightley plays fed-up academic Sally Alexander. She crosses paths with Jo (Jessie Buckley), whose approach to female empowerment is laced with punk antagonism.

Uniting them is the looming spectre of the beauty pageant that will see Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) parachuting in to slime his way through hosting duties. Taking part in the huge production is Miss Grenada Jennifer Hosten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who must contend with the clamour from the protest while knowing what it would mean to her as a black woman to win.

Misbehaviour's best moments occur within the prism of Hosten. Her struggle makes the sloganeering of Jo and Sally seem so glib that you come away feeling she was the true beating heart of the tale and that her character warranted a much more central focus.

Aside from this and a heated row about motherhood and sacrifice between Sally and her mum (played by Phyllis Logan), co-writers Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe keep it all pedestrian and self-congratulatory, and this feels like a cop-out. Rather than tackle the complex truth Hosten's character presents - that feminism can mean different things to different women - we're fed a version of events that is a little too neat and tidy, as if it was all about putting Bob Hope in his place.

★★★ Hilary White

 

And Then We Danced Club

Cert; In selected cinemas 

Georgia is one of the very few ex-Soviet states to offer legal protection to LGBTQ people, but writer/director Levan Akin's lovely film shows how law is one thing, people are another. It is also a moving reminder of the tragedy of forcing people to hide who they are and who they love.

Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) is a young man in Tbilisi following the family tradition and training as a Georgian dancer. It's rigorous and life-consuming and offers a decent living to very few. His family is fractured and fractious; there is little money to survive.

His dance partnership with Mary (Ana Javakishvili) is assumed to run into real life, something Merab seems to accept, if not act upon, until the arrival of a new dancer, the handsome Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) prompts different feelings.

It's not a particularly new story, but the way it is told, the Georgian setting and dance as well the wonderful acting make it touch the heart. It's a tough life in a tough place; it doesn't feel like a gentle world; appearances and honour matter a lot; and in some respects their world feels like a reminder of the Ireland we chose to leave behind. But love and kindness thrive there too. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

 

The Hunt

Cert: 18; Now showing 

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Emma Roberts in The Hunt

Emma Roberts in The Hunt

Emma Roberts in The Hunt

 

Craig Zobel has made some very interesting films, like 2012's sadly underseen Compliance. His latest sees him direct a script by the equally interesting Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse. Its trailer caused such uproar that the release was temporarily cancelled. The premise is harsh anywhere, but the specific politics and gun 'rights' are far less close to the bone here than in the US.

Twelve people, including familiar faces Emma Roberts (below) and Ike Barinholtz, wake up gagged in a field. It soon turns out that they are all "deplorables" - right-wing, gun-toting, religious conspiracy nuts being hunted by left-wing, right-on, godless elites. It's a satire, yes. The real power lies with Athena (Hilary Swank) and Crystal (Betty Gilpin) and along the way there is lots of so-graphic-it-is-almost-funny gore, plenty of humour at the expense of both sides. Niche-market but effective, the outrage the trailer sparked also proves it is very relevant.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

 

My Spy

Cert: 12A; Now showing.

And so we come back around to the 'beauty and the beast' comedy that sees a muscle-bound Arnie-type paired up with someone small, delicate and sassy. Such match-ups have been on the go since King Kong, with former wrestlers and bodybuilders now slotting in nicely for monster apes.

Dave Bautista will do perfectly. With a voice that never rises above a vein-bulging murmur and a physique wildly swollen by years of pumping iron, he is ideal as CIA agent JJ. He and goofy tech expert Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) are assigned surveillance duty on a single mum Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and her daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman).

The latter is the niece of a wanted terrorist but is no mug herself. She quickly rumbles JJ's stakeout and blackmails him into spending time with her while Kate works overtime in the hospital. Part of the bargain is for JJ to impart spy training, which will come in handy what with that nasty uncle prowling around.

Originality be damned. Director Peter Segal grabs trusted clichés and exploits them with precision, meaning an action comedy for older kids that barely puts a foot wrong.

Bautista's chops are limited but a strong support cast enables him. Cool soundtrack, too.

★★★★ Hilary White

 

Calm With Horses

Cert: 16; Selected cinemas.

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Barry Keogh in Calm With Horses

Barry Keogh in Calm With Horses

Barry Keogh in Calm With Horses

 

Stunning Connacht scenery and bleak crime-ridden lives clash sumptuously in this striking feature debut from director-writer team (and ones to watch) Nick Rowland and Joe Murtagh.

UK actor Cosmo Jarvis is on fire as Arm, an ex-boxer turned enforcer on the leash of gangland heir apparent Dympna (Barry Keoghan, below). When Arm is unable to carry out an execution, it is further evidence that this is not his world and he needs to reconnect with his ex (Niamh Algar) and their young son. Ned Dennehy's crime boss might have something to say about this insubordination, however, and Arm has to draw his line in the sand.

This looks like your average rural crime saga but moves in elliptical shapes. Beauty, brutality and poignancy all to find room in the tonal mix next to a beguiling gothic flourish. Murtagh's dialogue and a throbbing lead turn by Jarvis serve to mark this out as a highlight of Irish cinema this year.

★★★★ Hilary White

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