*TRIGGER WARNING – Sexual Assault*
Chivalry navigates the intricate world of systemic sexism in post-Me Too Hollywood from the opposing perspectives of two industry insiders: the terse, fiercely feminist, indie darling director Bobby Sohrabi (Sarah Solemani) and the semi-fumbling, more old-school producer Cameron O’Neill (Steve Coogan). Solemani and Coogan also created and wrote the new comedy-drama together, the concept emerging on the set of Michael Winterbottom’s Greed in 2018, where the pair would get into frequent debates about sexual politics as the #MeToo movement was upending their entire industry. The cast also boasts the likes of Sienna Miller, Wanda Sykes, as well as homegrown comedians Lolly Adefope and Aisling Bea — and even a glance-at-your-phone-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Paul Rudd!
Bobby has been called in to direct reshoots on a potentially-problematic erotic French resistance drama, or as Sienna Miller’s character Lark elegantly puts it, “She’s the feminist the studio have brought in to put the dinosaur’s dick in the mangle.” Meanwhile, Cameron is sweating beneath the microscope he’s suddenly found himself under, making comical attempts to prove his place in a changing industry.
Where Chivalry begins to falter is in its structure. It often feels like it’s methodically ticking off boxes on a Buzzfeed listicle of ‘Top 10 Hollywood Hot Button Issues’. Of course, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with centering each episode around a particular culturally-relevant topic — take Bojack Horseman, another show critiquing Hollywood from the insiders’ perspective. It frequently has episodes concentrated on a single issue of importance, be that feminism, sexual assault, or cancel culture — and crucially, its introduction of these topics always feels very organic to the existing characters and story rather than shoehorned in. The trouble with Chivalry is its lack of delicacy and realism in broaching such complex, nuanced subject matters. In a later episode, Bobby reveals that she was raped twelve years previously at an industry party. The importance of this scene is completely lost by how out-of-place it feels, and ultimately the only consequences of this revelation are purely plot-functional, with the confession being used as a device to bring Bobby and Cameron’s characters closer together.
If you’re someone who hasn’t spent their formative years surrounded by this kind of discourse, this show and its ideas probably won’t seem as played-out and tiresome. There’s a scene where Bobby and Ama (Lolly Adefope) give Cameron a lesson on female anatomy after he mistakenly refers to the vulva as the vagina, with its dialogue feeling like it’s lifted directly from a 2016 Buzzfeed video. The show could be viewed as a beginner’s guide to systemic sexism and #MeToo, perhaps for those who aren’t as involved in the online discourse. Even so, its unfortunate and potentially dangerous moral hypocrisy prevents any constructive education. Chivalry fails to apply the same respect and professional conduct that is being asked for by women to the men in Hollywood, forgetting that feminism is about gender equality rather than female supremacy. A particularly abhorrent instance of this is when, while making a point on set, Bobby suddenly grabs Cameron’s crotch and forcibly places his hand on her breast — a huge overstepping of boundaries that, shockingly, is never brought up again. In the same episode, a male body double’s discomfort during a sex scene is depicted as laughable, while the female actor’s comfort is prioritised.
Chivalry falls short of its expectations, with the end result being a misguided, surface-level satire with uninteresting, unconvincing lead characters who fail to flesh themselves out as much more than political stand-ins. There are some solid performances, namely from Coogan ( though no less is expected from the comedic veteran). It would feel remiss to not mention the brilliant Lolly Adefope, who remarkably seems to shine and scene-steal in every project she’s involved in. Ultimately, the cast is not enough to elevate Chivalry beyond its weak script and hesitancy to dive in at the deep end. Its audaciousness comes across as performative and obvious and will struggle to resonate with viewers south of twenty-five.