Archive for the ‘Amma Asante’ Category

The First Lady of Botswana

A 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.


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.



The Zong Massacre



Director: Amma Asante
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Miranda Richardson, Emily Watson, Tom Felton, Sam Reid, Matthew Goode, Sarah Gadon, James Norton

South African British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed race woman who has the fortune to be rescued by her father and installed at the Hampstead home of his Uncle William Murray, the 1st Earl of Mansfield, who also happens to be the Lord Chief Justice for the infamous Zong trial which featured prominently in British society at the end of the 18th century.

The Zong Massacre – revolved around a British slave ship which jettisoned half its cargo including a great many slaves in the West Indies, drowning them in the Caribbean Sea because there was not enough drinking water on board the slave ship while heading from modern day Ghana to Jamaica.

The Liverpool merchant owners of the slave ship sought insurance compensation for lost cargo which caused a public trial and an outcry back in England as it highlighted the horrors of the 18th century slave trade, naturally bringing up the age old question of can there ever be a price put on a human life. The history of the Zong trial and the massacre of the slaves on board takes centre stage in director Amma Asante’s riveting and slightly contrived social-historical drama Belle.

Like Amazing Grace, Belle centres on the last decades of the British slave trade and portrays a society on the brink of change. Set in England in the 18th century under the reign of King George III (the mad one!), Dido Elizabeth Belle – tells the story of Dido Belle a mixed race heiress and under the guardianship of Lord Mansfield must navigate her way despite her title and wealth through the apparent prejudices of 18th century British society.

Dido_Elizabeth_BellePainting by Johann Zoffany, 1779

Accompanied by her first cousin Elizabeth Murray, played by Canadian actress Sarah Gadon (Cosmopolis, A Dangerous Method), who was without a dowry, Belle and Elizabeth need to secure suitable husbands, both of which apparently come in the form of the Ashford brothers James and Oliver played by British actors James Norton (Rush) and Tom Felton of the Harry Potter franchise.

However Belle or Dido as she is referred to in the film has her sights set on an ambitious abolitionist lawyer John Davinier, played by Australian actor Sam Reid (Anonymous) who is assisting the 1st Earl of Mansfield in the legal case regarding the Zong Question as it was politely known in 1783.


Ably assisted by a consummate script written by Misan Sagay, Belle is an absorbing and intelligent social-historical drama, similar to the Michael Apted film Amazing Grace with less of the apparent cruelty of Steve McQueen’s Oscar winning film 12 Years a Slave.

Belle, along with a nuanced performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw features a superb supporting cast including Emily Watson (The Book Thief), Penelope Wilton (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel & Downton Abbey series) and the brilliant Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton) as the Earl of Mansfield who takes Belle under his guardianship at Kenwood House, Hampstead.

This is a fascinating portrait of England at the end of the 18th century, whereby race and politics as well as class and legitimacy ruled a conservative society constricted further by prejudice and ruled by desire for European commercial superiority, which despite its horrors was the main reason that the slave trade come into existence and historically changed  the West African, European and Caribbean demographics. For lovers of historical drama with a social conscience, Belle is recommended viewing and an exceptionally interesting film.

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