Belle (2014)

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Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray

This film, released early in 2014 in the US, is a must-see, especially for fans of historical dramas and Jane Austen!  Issues of class privilege, marriage/property, and slavery arise.  In the portrait (above), the viewer’s eye is drawn to Dido, who seems full of vivacity, while her cousin seems more proper/sedate. 

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The poster for the film

The poster itself intrigued many people walking through theater lobbies- a pretty biracial woman dressed in finery.  The film was directed by Amma Asante, the daughter of Ghanian immigrants to England; she is also an actress and writer.  The luminous lead actress is Gugu Mbatha Raw, the daughter of a black South African doctor and white British nurse.  (FYI:  That’s natural beauty- Gugu wore no makeup during filming, since there was none for Belle’s complexion.)

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Belle & Elizabeth all grown up

The young Belle is brought by her naval officer father (Matthew Goode) to live in the household of his childless uncle, William Murray, the first earl of Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson, superb as ever) and his wife (Emily Watson, in a low-key role).  All we know is that the child’s mother was an African slave  found aboard a Spanish vessel.  Already living on the vast country estate is another girl, Elizabeth Murray (newcomer Sarah Gadon), the daughter of another of  Lord Mansfield’s nephews.  The girls grow up together, like sisters, though Belle is of a different status (too high to dine with the servants, yet too low to dine w/ the family). 

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Lord Mansfield & Belle talk

Lord Mansfield is also Chief Justice of the Royal Court, and as in the film, the real Dido assisted her great-uncle w/ his daily correspondence.  I especially enjoyed the debate/discussion scenes between these two! 

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Belle & John

 The idealistic son of the local parson, John Davinier (newcomer Sam Reid, a solid performance) comes to study law with Lord Mansfield.  He mentions an important court case involving slave cargo, and she wants to learn more.

Related Links:

All Things Considered (NPR): Film review by critic Bob Mondello

Morning Edition  (NPR): Interview w/ director Amma Assante

Tell Me More (NPR): Interview w/ actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw

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