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?