Tag Archives: Amma Asante

Kingdom Come

A United Kingdom

by Hope Madden

Last year, Jeff Nichols’s Loving quietly observed the bond between Mildred and Richard Loving, a married couple whose union eventually brought down miscegenation laws in the US.

A United Kingdom, Amma Asante’s follow up to her 2013 historical drama Belle, treads similar waters. Like Loving, this is the true story of an interracial marriage with profound social and political impact.

In 1945, London clerk Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) married Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (now Botswana).

Rejected by her family and his, the couple then faced opposition first from Khama’s people, then, more sharply, from the British government working in collusion with apartheid-riddled South Africa.

A United Kingdom teems with beautiful actors, postcard-ready shots, swelling strings and feel good moments.

What Asante’s film lacks is Nichols’s observational style, one that trusts the story and the actors to draw an audience in. Asante too often tells the audience how to feel with a leading score and disruptive camerawork.

The filmmaker and her cast have a lot of ground to cover, and though Asante’s glimpses the budding romance quickly enough to induce whiplash, her instincts are strong when it comes to handling the drier political wheeling and dealing that sought to keep the newlyweds separate.

David Oyelowo’s performance cannot help but conjure memories of his outstanding turn in Ava DuVernay’s 2014’s masterpiece, Selma. As he did in his portrayal of Martin Luther King, Oyelowo gives Khama tremendous presence. He is thoughtful, wise, compelling, charismatic yet human – exactly the kind of person who could lead a nation to democracy.

As Williams, Pike presents a believable mix of self-assuredness and self-doubt. In her hands, Ruth is elegant, humble and in love.

Luckily for Asante and the film, Oyelowo and Pike share so bright an onscreen union they overshadow most of A United Kingdom’s faults. They do seem very comfortably in love. So much so that it is impossible to accept that anyone – let alone three entire governments – felt the need to force the two apart.

While far from perfect, A United Kingdom gives you reason to applaud, to feel good, and to hope. That may be enough.


Portrait of a Lady



by George Wolf


A scandalous affair. An innocent child. A society obsessed with money, power, and its own prejudices.

Belle is the latest historical drama to remind us that sometimes, the past looks pretty familiar.

It’s based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, born in the 1700s as the bi-racial daughter of a slave and an Admiral in the British Navy. She was raised by members of her father’s aristocratic family, standing alone as an anachronistic mix of wealth, prestige, and brown skin.

Actually, the story of how writer Misan Sagay came to find Belle could be a movie in itself.

Inspiration leapt from a painting of Belle and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, that Sagay (who adapted Their Eyes Were Watching God for TV) encountered while in Scotland as a college student. After years of research, Sagay’s screenplay mixes fact with poetic liberties to make Belle’s story truly compelling.

The cast is letter-perfect. In the lead, Gugu Mbatha-Raw delivers a breakout performance, infusing Belle with an effective mix of intellect, wonder, spirit and hurt. As family patriarch Lord Mansfield, Tom Wilkinson is…well, Tom Wilkinson, an actor who’s seemingly impervious to missteps.

Director Amma Asante not only gives the film a fitting majestic sheen, but delicately balances Jane Austen-style period romance with serious social commentary and historical heft. At times, Belle flirts with overplaying its hand on both fronts, but Asante displays fine instincts for restraint before the storytelling takes too obvious a turn.

It is a fascinating story and a completely satisfying film. When Asante finally throws her trump card and you glimpse the inspirational portrait, it’s clear that, whatever barbs historians may throw, they can’t keep Belle from hitting a bullseye.