- Allan Hunter
- 3 June 2014
Assured historical drama profiling illegitimate daughter of British aristocrat and an African slave
The fact that a decade has passed since Amma Asante's BAFTA-winning debut A Way Of Life is a stark reminder of how difficult it is for even the most talented individuals to make films in Britain. Belle is an elegantly assured, emotionally charged historical drama that illuminates a defining moment in the fight against the slave trade through a personal voyage of self discovery. It is also beautifully written, bringing the lightest of touches to a complex tale rooted in true events.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw gives a radiant performance as Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of a British aristocrat and an African slave. As a child she is placed in the custody of Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson) and raised within the protection of the family name. She is resigned to a social limbo that leaves her ‘too high in rank to dine with the servants but too low to dine with my family’.
An inheritance elevates her social prospects and her interest in the politics of the time is raised by cleric's son John Davinier (Sam Reid), a passionate opponent of the slave trade.
Belle brings a sharp clarity to a weighty range of issues from race and colonial oppression to the many injustices of a male-dominated society. It also creates a detailed portrait of a society that operated along strictly defined rules where appearances and propriety meant everything. Witty and well-heeled, it also boasts a fine cast of British character actors at the top of their game (Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton, Tom Wilkinson etc) making it easily accessible to lovers of costume drama and those with a deeper interest in the seeds of sweeping political and social change that were planted in 18th-century Britain.
General release from Fri 13 Jun.