NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the film.
The personal IS political in this (based on a true story) film now playing widely in the US. I went to a screening last MON night (thanks to free passes via a movie Meetup). The director is Amma Asante; she previously made a big splash w/ Belle. This film has some of the same themes, BUT is set on a much broader/grander stage. The setting is 1947 in London, a place and time when interracial relationships were legal, yet NOT widely viewed positively. You’ll see old-school racism in some scenes, which could be uncomfortable for a modern audience.
Seretse Khama (Oyelowo), the crown prince of Bechunaland (modern-day Botswana), has recently finished his law studies at Oxford. He is articulate, cultured, and a good boxer (which comes in handy in one scene). One night, Seretse meets Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a clerk for an insurance company. She wasn’t expecting to meet anyone special when she tagged along w/ her little sister, Muriel (Laura Carmichael- Lady Edith in Downton Abbey), to a dance at a missionary hall. Ruth is a former WAAF ambulance driver and has a curious mind. They bond first over their idealistic views and love of jazz.
No man is free who is not master of himself. –Seretse Khama says to his tribe (when he returns home from England)
At that time, Bechunaland (a small, peaceful, yet poor nation) was a protectorate of England. The British government (incl. its reps, like Alistair Canning, played by Jack Davenport) was against the union of the Khamas, which went against the wishes of Seretse’s uncle (the prince regent) and South Africa (which had recently put apartheid into law). Seretse and his African friends consider apartheid as a “disease” which should NOT be allowed to spread.
There is exposition woven into the film; that can be clunky, BUT is needed to give the audience pertinent info. Anton Lesser’s Labour Party minister does a GREAT job w/ it in his (brief) scene, thanks to his deft way of conveying the words. I wanted to see a BIT more of the British minor characters, such as the journalist (Mr. Nash) and the liberal Labour Party members. As for the African actors, the woman playing Seretse’s sister did an especially good job.
As with Belle, the film is beautiful to look at visually. In the first section of the film (set-up/courtship), we see fog, clouds, and less saturation (b/c of the filter used). This is quite different from what we see when we go to Africa; the colors are much more vibrant and the sun (of course) shines brightly.
In my mind, this is NOT only a story of love, BUT one of commitment, which is becoming more and more rare in today’s world (no matter what race/national origin of a couple). In Seretse’s life, his marriage w/ Ruth was what propelled him into a fight with the British government, securing mineral rights for his people, and eventually- forming a democracy. Wow, this is SO much cooler than what went down w/ Edward and Wallis Simpson, right?
Hannah (Mia Farrow), Holly (Dianne Wiest), and Lee (Barbara Hershey) are sisters (somewhere in their 30s) from a show business family in Manhattan. Their parents, Norma (Maureen O’Sullivan- Farrow’s real mother) and Evan (Lloyd Nolan) are still together, though can be combative and cranky towards each other.
Hannah has been married to Elliot (Michael Caine) for four years. He is a British financial advisor, but has a penchant for poetry. Unbeknownst to Hannah, he has developed feelings for Lee (revealed via his internal monologue at the opening of the film).
However, Lee has been living for several years w/ an older European painter, Frederick (Max Von Sydow). He isn’t a people person, but is a boyfriend, mentor, and financial support for Lee.
Hannah is the success of the sibling trio, but taking a break from acting to raise her children. Her first husband, Mickey (Woody Allen), is a comedy show writer and hypochondriac. Mickey goes on a (rather funny) quest for religion, fearing he might die soon.
Holly is the insecure single sister who is a struggling actress; she recently started a catering business with her actress friend (or perhaps frenemy), April (Carrie Fisher). One time, Hannah even set up Holly w/ Mickey. (Wow, looks like even 30 yrs ago, there was a lack of eligible single men in NYC- LOL!)
On a catering job, Holly and April meet an architect, Michael (Sam Waterston in an uncredited role). Michael was bored at the party, thought they were pretty, and ended up showing them around Manhattan, pointing out his favorite buildings. (That sounds like a cool date, or in this case- quasi-date!)
Michael takes Holly to the opera (which he loves); she gets excited about the potential for a relationship. April tells her that Michael also asked her to the opera when they meet after a rehearsal. (Uh oh, not a good sign!)
Elliot hangs around Lee’s neighborhood, then runs into her one afternoon. They browse through an old bookstore together. He doesn’t reveal his feelings, but insists on buying her a volume of e.e. cummings poetry.
I’d never seen this film before, though I’d heard about it many times. Both Caine and Wiest won Oscars for their roles. The dialogue is great, but you shouldn’t expect less from Allen (who wrote and directed). Though the themes are quite serious, there are some funny moments. I also enjoyed seeing the scenery of ’80s NYC- it was quite different from when I lived there (2005-2009). Check out this film for yourself!