Philippa Lowthorpe Interview

Misbehaviour finally makes its way into Australian cinemas this week and I recently spoke to director Philippa Lowthorpe (Three Girls, The Crown) about the production…

Matt:  How’s it going?

Philippa:  It’s going very well except for the fact we’re in lockdown here in the UK. 

Matt:  So has the film already been released in the UK or has it been delayed because of COVID?

Philippa:  We had a really sad happening.  The film was released in March on a Friday into 550 cinemas in the UK.  It had the most amazing publicity campaign by Pathé only for cinemas to be shut down the following Monday.  It really did crash into the pandemic and we were absolutely gutted.  It had fantastic reviews and had been so well received at previews and at the premiere.  It was heartbreaking to have put in all that work and then for cinemas to close.

Matt:  How did this script from Gaby Chiappe and Rebecca Flynn first come across your desk?

Philippa:  I was working on The Crown with our producer Suzanne Mackie and she told me she had this fantastic script about the Miss World competition in 1970.  I almost stopped her right there and said “I love it”.  She sent me the script and I thought it was a brilliant idea for a film.  I love stories about women and those based in truth.  I used to be a documentary filmmaker and a lot of work I’ve done is about true life stories.   

Matt:  You tell the story from multiple perspectives – the activists, the organisers, the families and even Bob Hope.  What was behind that creative decision as opposed to focusing on one particular viewpoint?

Philippa:  I think it was important to have different viewpoints because once we started delving into the research, we realised there was more than just one thing happening.  Not only were the white feminists getting together and trying to put women’s liberation on the map, it was also the year the first black woman won the competition.  Those two things showed we had to tell this from multiple points of views.

In 1970, there were so few opportunities for women to do anything and so the competition was one of their only ways to try to get more opportunities out of life.  But then on the other side, you’ve got the feminists who were desperate to fight for equality, education, child care and equal pay.

Matt:  I do like the greyness with a lot of the subplots.  We think Keira Knightley’s character is doing the right thing and standing up for women’s rights but then we see a conversation between her and Gugu Mbatha-Raw who offers a different opinion as a black woman.  Is this something you were conscious of a director and illustrating the opposing points of view?

Philippa:  You’re right.  That scene is very important.  It’s the emotional climax of the film.  Many of the scenes were based in real life but that scene came from a conversation I had with the real Jennifer Hosten.  When she met Sally Alexander for the first time many years later as part of a radio program in the UK called The Reunion, they had that same conversation.  They explained to each other why they did what they did and it felt so moving.  We knew we had to put that in the film. 

Matt:  In doing some further research about the 1970 Miss World competition, I read there was a lot of controversy around the selection of the winner and the judging.  Was there thought of including that as a subplot within the film?

Philippa:  We would have loved to.  We could have made a whole series of films about this event but unfortunately, we had to leave it somewhere.  The aftermath of the competition was very interesting because in some circles, there was a huge backlash against Jennifer winning because she was black with people thinking that Miss Sweden should have won because she was white and blonde.  We incorporated some of that into the body of the film by showing the subtle racism that Jennifer encountered. 

Matt:  From a casting perspective, I can imagine Bob Hope being a tricky one because he’s someone so many people will be familiar with in terms of his look and his voice and his mannerisms.  What were you looking for and how did you settle on Greg Kinnear?

Philippa:  You’re absolutely right.  Playing Bob Hope is a real challenge for an actor partly because he’s still such a beloved comedy icon in America.  Many actors wouldn’t be brave enough to take on that role and show Bob Hope how he was.  We wanted an actor who could inhabit Bob Hope as opposed to impersonating him.  We wanted someone to get the essence of him.  Greg is a fine actor who has wonderful comedic timing and we wanted him to bring a kind of pathos to Bob’s character and luckily, he said yes.

Matt:  I don’t want to give too much away about the finale but some of the women involved with the actual Miss World competition in 1970 are still alive today.  Did you get a chance to show them the film and hear what they had to say?

Philippa:  Absolutely.  The real women involved gave us so much of their time during the research period of the film.  We met them many times.  When the film was complete, we had private screenings so they could see it and discuss it.  For the feminists, they’re quite shy people and so to see themselves played on screen by Keira Knightley and Jessie Buckley was an overawing experience.  They’ve remained friends all these years and they’ve been totally supportive of the film.  It’s been one of the loveliest things for me – getting to know these women.

Matt:  What are you working on at the moment?  Is there much you can do from within a COVID lockdown?

Philippa:  It’s very difficult.  I just finished directing episodes of The Third Day which is a miniseries which will soon be on HBO in Australia.  It’s very different from Misbehaviour in that it’s a creepy thriller and it was very fun to do.