Writer: Guy Hibbert
Cast: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Terry Pheto, Tom Felton, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Vusi Kunene
Running time: 105mins
What’s the story: While studying in London in 1948, Seretse Khama (Oyelowo), King of Bechuanaland (modern day Botswana), falls in love with local office worker Ruth Williams (Pike). But, their relationship is opposed by her family, the people of Bechuanaland, and an imperialistic British government.
What’s the verdict: If star ratings could be awarded for good intentions, then A United Kingdom would be a five star movie. With a central message of independence, understanding, tolerance and dignity, only the most knuckleheaded racist could oppose this big screen telling of a remarkable true love story.
Even the title A United Kingdom seems to be a plea for optimism in the post-Brexit times.
What keeps Amma Asante’s film good rather than great is the safe, middle-of-the-road storytelling. Characters are defined by their first lines of dialogue and rarely develop beyond that, good guys and bad guys being as clear-cut as in any classic fairy tale.
David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike easily slip into their roles as star-crossed lovers whose bond is threatened by rejection from the people they love and the anger of a British empire which fears its stake in the area will be jeopardised by scandal.
Particularly in South Africa, where President Daniel Malan’s racist regime is introducing a new oppressive system called apartheid…
Oyelowo covered similar terrain portraying Martin Luther King in Selma, and is given a number of stirring orations here. Pike draws on the warmth she brought to her role in previous inspirational true story movie Made in Dagenham as the resilient Williams, who risked scorn from all sides for daring to marry an African man in 1948.
Equally working well inside their wheelhouse are Jack Davenport and Tom Felton as government attaches to Africa, dripping with sneering privilege and oily malevolence, employing sherry as a weapon. Although it is nice to see Nicholas Lyndhurst put a dark spin on his Goodnight Sweetheart character as Ruth’s disapproving dad.
Though events go to the very top of British government, Guy Hibbert’s script offers few surprises and the entire movie can be mentally plotted out while the opening credits roll under Patrick Doyle’s emotional score and a rich, warm voiceover.
Where the film succeeds is in the Bechuanaland tribespeople’s anger at someone from the ruling regime arriving as their Queen. The finest scene has Ruth taken to task by Seretse’s sister and aunt (Pheto and Kunene) for a perceived arrogance that she could be mother of their nation, plus the unavoidable fact that a Bechuanaland woman has been denied the right to influence affairs of state.
Asante, whose previous film Belle was a kind of reversal of this story, has a good eye for gold-hued visuals and keeps the pace brisk over an economic 105 minute run time, even if the lasting impression is this belongs more on ITV at 8pm one Sunday evening.
Yet, in these times when shrill polemic has replaced reasoned debate, perhaps this kind of broad brushstrokes movie is needed to remind people that understanding is better than ignorance, foreigners are not to be feared and sometimes love can conquer all.
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