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.
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.
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
Keep. It. Reel