A United KingdomCultureCinemaMovie reviews
A United Kingdom tells the extraordinary true story of Sir Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams. She came from a typical London middle-class background, while he was the heir to the throne of the Bamangwato people of Botswana. Their marriage in 1947 was vehemently opposed by family, friends and politicians from both sides. The film, directed by Amma Asante, who also brought audiences the opulent costume drama Belle (2013), has fashioned another entertaining period piece from the dramatic events that took place during the last days of the British Empire’s colonial hegemony in Botswana, or Bechuanaland as it was known as then.
The feature concentrates primarily on the difficulties the couple, played by Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) and David Oyelowo (Queen of Katwe), faced in the early years of their marriage, during the heyday of apartheid. Both became ostracised; he a victim of racism in England, whilst studying law at Oxford, and at home, where his people initially rejected him as their ruler because of his wife; and she by her parents who disowned her, as well as the white community in her new homeland. This is visualised in a scene when she collapses in the stark heat of the Botswana sun surrounded by fellow Englishmen who gaze at her lifeless body as if it were a dead hyena.
This is an elegantly mounted movie, featuring picturesque cinematography of post-war London by Sam McCurdy, and pretty period costumes by Jenny Beavan and Anushia Nieradzik. Rosamund Pike is convincing as a young, unassuming woman who, through her love for her husband, finds the confidence to withstand the tornado of political and racial turmoil that is thrown at her. David Oyelowo portrays Seretse with the correct gravitas befitting a king.
The narrative becomes romantic in the style of Out of Africa when the movie moves to the Dark Continent, with sweeping shots of the savannah and local fauna, where the tale unfolds according to the mould of the classic romantic costume drama. There is nothing wrong with that, but the story is far too important for such a light-hearted and unnuanced portrayal of events, which brought about much fundamental change. Jack Davenport’s oily, villainous ambassador, for example, is portrayed in the broadest of strokes. Despite this, the film should attract lovers of epic romance set against exotic backdrops, and shines a light on a relatively forgotten but important piece of history.
A United Kingdom is released nationwide on 25th November 2016.
Watch the trailer for A United Kingdom here: