The First Lady of Botswana

A United Kingdom

united_kingdom

Director: Amma Asante

Cast: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael, Terry Pheto, Vusi Kunene, Theo Landey, Jack Lowden

Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) reunites with Jack Reacher co-star David Oyelowo (The Paperboy, Queen of Katwe) in the Amma Asante directed biographical drama A United Kingdom focusing on the interracial love story between a working class British girl Ruth Williams and Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana. The year was 1947.

Whilst Belle director Amma Asante does not possess a gift for providing a truly compelling biographical story, A United Kingdom is saved by solid performances by Pike and Oyelowo along with a host of supporting actors including Jack Davenport (The Talented Mr Ripley) as a stuffy British High Commissioner Alistair Canning and a nasty cameo by Tom Felton (Belle, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) as a colonial upstart Rufus Lancaster.

A United Kingdom begins just after World War II in the fog ridden streets of London, as Britain is recovering from one of the worst wars in human history while battling to maintain its grip on its colonial territories. Furthermore, geographically significant South Africa is about to be plunged into one of the darkest periods of its history, as the segregationist policies of Apartheid would be put into law in 1948.

Against this historical backdrop, Ruth Williams accompanies her sister Muriel played by Downton Abbey’s Laura Carmichael (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) to a dance organised by the London missionary society. There she meets the intelligent and charismatic law student Seretse Khama wonderfully played by the highly underrated British actor David Oyelowo.

After a brief romance Khama and Williams decide to marry causing a diplomatic row both in London and in Khama’s homeland of Bechuanaland which at the time was a British protectorate. The British authorities not wishing to upset their most powerful former colony on the tip of Africa, the mineral rich yet increasingly segregated South Africa, instruct Seretse Khama to go into exile.

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Khama on the other hand also has to face the suspicion of his own people, the Bamangwato People of Bechuanaland of which his uncle Tshekedi was regent, played by South African actor Vusi Kunene. Even as Seretse brings an English woman back to the hot and dry plains of Botswana, Williams is initially greeted with contempt by his own sister Naledi, wonderfully played by Terry Pheto (Tsotsi, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom).

As the narrative progresses, director Asante chooses to focus on the passionate love story between Khama and Williams instead of all the diplomatic intrigue so A United Kingdom is strong on images of reconciliation and fortitude but weak on a clear historic timeline. What saves A United Kingdom are brilliant performances by Oyelowo and Pike although the romance will not have a broader appeal beyond those that have a historical knowledge of Britain’s relationship with the former protectorate of Bechuanaland now known as Botswana.

Incidentally, Botswana due to the discovery of diamonds, is now one of the wealthiest and peaceful democracies in Africa despite its sparse population. Ruth Williams also eventually become the first Lady of Botswana when her husband Seretse whose political party the Bechuanaland Democratic Party won the 1965 Democratic elections as Botswana gained their independence from Britain on the 30th September 1966.

A United Kingdom is a fascinating and cleverly titled film. A well-acted and beautifully portrayed love story historically tying Britain with one of the lesser known regions of Southern Africa.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Williams_Khama

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seretse_Khama

 

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