The power of love does wonders to many people even if that love is regarded by some as ‘Forbidden Love’. In Amma Asante‘s A United Kingdom, it’s a love that caused a rift between two nations, as a man’s right to lead his nation. On paper, this sounds astonishing and it’s story that had to be told but sadly what we have lacks the emotional gravitas.
We alway read about or hear of women, young girls dreaming of one of a dashing prince sweeping them off their feet. In Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) case, In 1948 she found her prince but could she believe Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo)was no ordinary man, but a King in waiting. The King of Bechuanaland (now modern day Botswana).
We find ourselves in post-war Britain, a nation rebuilding, people living bt their means in what some may have called a ‘Classless Society’ as war affects everyone. Many nations worldwide, many Commonwealth nations fought side by side with the Allies. A mixed relationship or marriage today is very common but 70 plus years ago a black man dating a white woman was seen as ‘controversial’.This was also a time when Apartheid was introduced to South Africa causing tension with both sides of the fence.
Based on a Book by Susan Williams called ‘Colour Bay‘, A United Kingdom takes us back to 1947, Seretse Khama (Oyelowo) is in London studying law. After a time in the city, he receives word he must return to his homeland as it’s time to take his seat on his nation’s throne. Many people who knew him didn’t realise he had Royalty in his blood including his new girlfriend Ruth Williams (Pike). The pair met at a Missionary Society dance, their eyes locked on each other, falling in love instantly. Before he returns to Africa Seretse marries Ruth which causes her father (Nicholas Lyndhurst) to disown her, especially as he wants to take Ruth with him to Africa.
When Seretse returns home he faces hostility not just from his people but the country’s current regent, his Uncle Tshekedi (Visi Kunene).At the council meeting, he faces his people who demand Seretse divorces Ruth if he wants to be King (a demand supported by the British Government). But will he give up everything for a woman whose not ‘Mother of the nation’?
A United Kingdom has been a labour of love for David Oyelowo, a personal project whom he got filmmaker Amma Asante (Belle) onboard. On paper, this looked a fantastic pairing as Assante’s last movie captured racism, hatred, abuse and love during Slave Trade era. For this movie, she does capture the hatred of love, the politics of love, the fallout, implications from the Upper Class British snobs. Sneering officials who still believed in the old colonial racist blinded by the power of true love that sees no borders or colours. The British Empire was in its death bed and those from the establishment cling onto a life of luxury when those around them struggled to make ends meet.
This movie was set up to be an of love, tolerance, politics and power, sadly it rarely raised to the occasion. When the movie was marketed, it was promoted more as a love story that gave birth to a nation. We did get this for the first 20 to 30 minutes and when things move to Africa, the love story became secondary making Pike’s Ruth character a little redundant. The family and political struggles take over and even when supporters, allies come to Seretse rarely scratch the surface. Those who made him suffer are left with simple characterisations but you could argue they only had one dimensional agenda.
David Oyelowo, Seretse character reminds me at times similar to the actor’s rendition of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King in Selma. A proud man, a man of ideals, convictions and tradition, he is the strongest part of the movie and creates a solid chemistry with Rosamund Pike. A United Kingdom is not a bad nor is it a great movie, it’s solid in its passion for delivering a fascinating story. It does it in its simplest means, a serviceable movie that celebrates human values and tolerance only to be let down by its lack of dramatic tension.
| Paul Devine
Drama, History, Romance| UK, 2016 |12 | Out Now | 20th Century Fox Pictures | Dir.Amma Asante | David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael | Buy:A United Kingdom [DVD]