A United Kingdom, review

When Amma Asante returned after a 9 year absence to direct Belle in 2013, she told a story which combines politics, art and history. Telling the story of Belle who, despite her inherited wealth and status, was treated differently due to the colour of her skin. With A United Kingdom, the tables have been turned and it’s a white woman who suffers at the hands of those who she is different to. David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike take on the lead roles of Seretse and Ruth in a tale which begins in London in the 1940s. The two meet, fall in love and marry before they have to leave for Botswana due to Seretse’s obligation to take over the throne from his uncle. Their marriage causes an international stir due to the fact that he has married a white woman.

Rosamund Pike (Ruth) and David Oyelowo (Seretse) in A UNITED KINGDOM

Rosamund Pike (Ruth) and David Oyelowo (Seretse) in A UNITED KINGDOM

Oyelowo has had experience of playing a character who goes through an ordeal due to racial diversity and politics. In 2014’s Selma, he brilliantly portrayed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who had to battle and fight his way through to equality. The experience of playing someone as revered in history as this has clearly helped his performance. There are several similarities in his role in Selma and that of Seretse. They each have a real passion for succeeding in their cause, no matter how much it upsets the establishment; both do it out of love whether it’s for their fellow man or of that of a woman; both give empowered and life-changing speeches; both are desperate to see attitudes and society change. However it is the story of a Prince from Botswana which is the lesser known one but which has equal worth when it comes to stories that need to be told.

The primary issue of this film is racism, which is still rampant in our world today. It takes a look at it in an intriguing way, from the beating Seretse receives to the shunning of his culture to someone being pushed aside because of how they look. It’s harsh and brutal at times but a stark reality in today’s world despite how far we have come. Oyelowo gives a sterling performance as Seretse. His time has come to be recognized as a brilliant actor and one of the best the UK has to offer. His take on someone who should be more iconic than he is comes across as not only effortless, but masterful, poignant and heartbreaking. He brings a warmth and familiarity to Seretse that will remind you to fight for what you believe in. His speeches whilst well-delivered are very on the nose as is the soundtrack, however this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, for the type of movie it is, it seems that it works well.

Rosamund Pike as Ruth Williams and David Oyelowo as Seretse Khama in A UNITED KINGDOM

Rosamund Pike as Ruth Williams and David Oyelowo as Seretse Khama in A UNITED KINGDOM

The film only falls flat when it comes to Rosamund Pike, whose performance is less than believable. She forceably makes her way thorough this film, holding an almost expressionless expression across her face and speaking in a monotone voice. Whilst the love they share is borderline believable, Pike is worse when Oyelowo is not sharing the screen with her. His mere presence actually makes Pike’s performance watchable and makes his scenes without her even better. There’s a particularly moving moment with Oyelowo speaking to the people of Botswana without a single piece of music to accompany him. Unlike other films, this one keeps the score to itself for certain moments. It’s a brilliant move by the director to keep this scene as just a long and moving piece of dialogue.

So many components work extremely well in this film, including the scenery which has been beautifully shot by Cinematographer Sam McCurdy, previously of TV shows such as Games of Thrones and Merlin. He’s got a keen eye for perfecting the look of each shot, down to the greyness of London and the harsh but warm Botswana. Another thing that works well is the director and screenwriter. It’s the first time that Asante and Guy Hibbert have collaborated and it appears to be a winning combination. The story moves along at a well-thought out pace with the dialogue between the characters appearing to feel natural.

With a supporting cast which includes Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael and Jessica Oyelowo, plus the ever-popular Nicholas Lyndhurst, the film works on pretty much every level to be something that’s entertaining, thought-provoking and heartfelt.

4 out of 5

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Interview with director, Pablo Larraín

During the London Film Festival 2015, I had the fantastic opportunity to interview director Pablo Larraín about his new film The Club, a story about a house in which priests and a nun live, all of whom are suspected of crimes ranging from child abuse to baby snatching. Following an incident at the house, a crisis counsellor is sent to assess what has happened and find out more about those who live there.


Neel’s Reel Deel: Where did you come up with the idea for the film?

Pablo Larraín: A couple of years ago, I saw a picture in the newspaper of a house in Germany, just like this (The house in the film) There was this Chilean priest living there. I couldn’t believe there was a guy who was accused of sexual abuse and it started from there really. It’s about how they created something so dangerous.

NRD: Was it difficult to film or hard to watch after considering the content?

PL: No, not really

NRD: As this was co-written with yourself an others, how did you find the writing process?

PL: It was very strange because we wrote for the movie and also wrote whilst we were shooting, so we kept writing it all the way. It was very interesting because I collaborated with Guillermo Calderón and Daniel Villalobos and we are all Chileans but we were raised in different places so we had a different relationship with the characters. So I guess that really helped, it brought different perspectives to the issue.

NRD: That sounds really good, lots of ideas being brought to the table.

PL: Yeah it really was

NRD: How long did it take to shoot? You’ve had short shoots in the past, was this similar?

PL: Very short shooting time, two and a half weeks

NRD: Wow, very quick! How about the actors you brought on to play these roles?

PL: Well the actors are people I have been working with for many years and they are so articulate, people that I really trust and they trust me. So I never gave them a script at all, they didn’t know about their characters or the others, I would just give them a scene before we shot it so it was very interesting, we would end up doing some kind of process where the actors didn’t know what was going on and this was also kept the actors present for their acting. It gives an intriguing and mysterious performance.

NRD: To work with the same people must be an interesting experience, how long have you been working with these same people for?

PL: For five or six movies, it’s not always the exact same people but it’s people that I know, they are friends. So when I said to them “let’s make a movie”, I don’t going to tell them what it’s about! We’d go to the set, they have their make-up done and get in front of the camera, then I tell them what we’re doing so it creates an interesting moment, when you see someone who isn’t in control with what’s going on and helps.

NRD: They must have a lot of faith and trust in you.

PL: Yeah but also it creates an interesting affect and illusion, in the result in the film. You see a performance that looks controlled but it’s not.

NRD: When it comes to the religious aspects of the film, what’s your view on that? Are you a religious man yourself?

PL: No. not now. I think it’s always interesting to deal with religious aspects when you’re thinking about things like compassion, guilt, forgiveness.

NRD: It is a hard subject to approach, how did you approach it exactly? You say you’re not religious, so did you do quite a bit of research?

PL:  I did research but I went to Catholic school so I knew things from there. So what I had been studying and the tone in the school, they are things that I understand and know, I digested them and I wanted to bring this to the screen.

NRD: When it comes to the reality of abuse claims within the Catholic church, what do you think of that?

PL: Well, what’s going on today is that we’re facing a new kind of victim, someone who is not scared to talk about it. Back in the day, you wouldn’t do it, you wouldn’t be respected, people would look at you weird after you admit you had been abused, today you respect those people, we want them to have their space, we appreciate that someone is able to accuse somebody of this so they never do it again. Today is a better environment to do that. What’s also interesting is the relationship that the church has with the media.

NRD: Is there anyone else you’d like to work with? As you always work with the same actors. who else would you want on your set?

PL: It always depends on the movie and if you can find the right people then I would want to work with them.

NRD: The right person for the right role

PL: Yeah I think so

NRD: Did you discover anything new about yourself with regards of directing when you made this film?

PL: Oh, I don’t know, that’s a good question! Probably, but it’s hard to understand

NRD: Well you might become a religious man, you never know!

PL: Who knows, man! Anything is possible.

The Club directed by Pablo Larraín is out in UK cinemas now and is also available to stream on BFI Player.

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