I have recently caught up with some of last summer's movie releases that I didn't see at the time, but have now caught up with them on DVD. Some of them are worth comments, so over the next few weeks I will write them up .
First, is an excellent BBC Films production from 2016, "A United Kingdom". Directed with fine flair and obvious sympathy by young British director Amma Asante, this is part love story, part political intrigue, and part condemnation of racism. To top it all off, it is based on a true story.
Just after World War II, Seretse Khama, a young African prince who is heir to the tribal throne of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), a British colonial territory in southern Africa, was studying in London. He meets a young, white British girl, Ruth Williams. They fall in love, get married, and return to Africa. His family are appalled, her family are not much better, the British government is appalled, and the neighbouring apartheid state of South Africa is even more appalled. Strong forces unite to try and defeat their love. While Seretse and Ruth eventually win over the locals – Ruth becomes an especial favourite with them – the British government is ruthless: Seretse cannot ascend the throne with a white wife, South Africa won't stand for it, and if South Africa turns hostile, the whole British political position in southern Africa is put at risk.
As the ruling colonial power at that time, and still enjoying Great Power status, Great Britain's solution is simple but brutal – Seretse is exiled from his homeland and forced to live in London. Although loving Africa, Ruth is forced by circumstances to join her husband in England. So begins a fight by their supporters, both English and African, to reverse the British government position. Will True Love triumph? Will racism be defeated? Or will the cold-hearted British colonial system carry the day? This intriguing, true story is recounted in splendid, gripping style by this first-rate film.
We forget today that, back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Britain had an extensive colonial empire in Africa. Apartheid was not "on the nose" to the same extent it became later on; Britain felt it could not afford to alienate South Africa because the latter might make life very difficult for the British position in southern Africa. This film explores the political difficulties of the situation very nicely, while painting the British government officials as stiff, unbending, and ruthless in pursuit of British interests.
The two lead characters –Seretse and Ruth – are played respectively by David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, both fine actors. They do a really excellent job here. The supporting cast – particularly Jack Davenport playing a loathsomely cold and unbending British government official – are excellent too. Don't worry if you don't know much about British colonial history in Africa after World War II. I didn't either. The film sets it all out beautifully, you understand the situation completely, and above all else, you sympathise with the horrible position the two major characters are placed in by politics and racism. How the film resolves this dilemma makes for fascinating viewing.
If nothing else, enjoy it for the true, touching love story which is the basis of the movie.
I did a little research on the whole episode; as far as I can see, the movie sticks pretty closely to what actually happened, so the story's resolution is historically accurate.
Partly filmed on location in southern Africa, with some magnificent scenery, and in some of the places where the real-life story actually happened, I thoroughly recommend this film for those who like their cinema to tell interesting, true tales.
The "special features" on the DVD are, for once, actually quite interesting, explaining the background of the film, the true story behind it, and some of the things that happened during production.
The film comes in at slightly under two hours viewing time – very satisfying indeed.
On my five-star scale, I give it: * * * * 1/2