A United Kingdom

 

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Amma Asante’s new film proves to be a worthy successor to 2013’s Belle.

 
United Kingdom, A

Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo

 

Notwithstanding a trailer that put me off, my reaction on seeing A United Kingdom, the new film from the director of Belle, is that it is very much a worthy companion piece to that earlier hit. Working this time from a screenplay by Guy Hibbert who recently did such good work on Eye in the Sky, Amma Asante again offers a film based on fact which seeks successfully to function as commercially appealing cinema while portraying racial and political issues of a past period and combining them with a love story. The fact that it stars David Oyelowo invites a comparison with Selma (2014) which was less concerned to capture a popular tone, but on its own terms A United Kingdom is an undoubted and very welcome success.

Where Belle went all the way back to the 18th century, A United Kingdom is set between 1947 and 1951 as it tells the story of Seretse Khama (Oyelowo’s role) and his marriage to Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). They married in a London Registry Office in 1947 when Khama was here studying law and it was a daring act, not just because inter-racial marriage was so controversial at the time but because Khama was next in line to become king of Bechuanaland. Marrying a white woman and then taking his wife to his own country made an arch opponent of his uncle (Vusi Kunene) and also aroused violent disapproval from the controlling British government at a time when Britain was still not far from its colonial prime.

It may be thought that the unpleasant face of the British establishment is too overt here, but it is easy to believe that the reality was not so very different. Wider political concerns of the period overrode moral issues of a personal kind - and the discovery of diamonds in Bechuanaland was in its own way something akin to the relevance of oil in Iraq in more recent times. As with Belle, there are moments that seem to play to the audience a bit too much (a dash to the hospital when Ruth is pregnant and a final section that seems just a little too anxious to be upbeat in every detail). However, Oyelowo and Pike play with real commitment and, however much a period piece this may be, it is always of value to have a mainstream movie that reminds its audience of the need for true human equality, equality that encompasses black and white alike.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael, Terry Pheto, Jessica Oyelowo, Arnold Oceng, Anton Lesser, Nicholas Rowe, Anastasia Hille, Vusi Kunene, Nicholas Lyndhurst.

 

Dir Amma Asante, Pro Rick McCallum, David Oyelowo, Peter Heslop and Brunson Green, Screenplay Guy Hibbert, from the book Colour Bar by Susan Williams, Ph Sam McCurdy, Pro Des Simon Bowles, Ed Jon Gregory and Jonathan Amos, Music Patrick Doyle, Costumes Jenny Beaten and Anushia Nieradzik.

 

Pathé/BBC Films/Ingenious Media/BFI/Yaruba Saxon/Harbinger Pictures/Perfect Weekend/Film United-Pathé.
111 mins. UK/USA/Czech Republic/France. 2016. Rel: 25 November 2016. Cert. 12A.