Film Review: A United Kingdom (2016)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ – 3/5.

Author: Feargal Agard | Runtime: 111 min. | Director: Amma Asante | year: 2016.

What a fascinating story. I base this on the powerful message that this story entails. The film provides a captivating and different perspective, which allows us to gain a new insight of historic events that we might have never known about. Besides that we can find great pleasure in the amazing cinematographic images.

A United Kingdom tells the true-life story of Sir Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). Seretse Khama of the Bamangwate tribe is the heir to the throne of Bechuanaland a British protectorate and a kingdom on the African continent. As royalty, he took the opportunity to study rights in London, which is where he met Ruth Williams and they soon fell in love. Within their circle of friends it all seems to go well, but they still lived at a time where segregation was a reality and apartheid was on the rise. At first, Ruth wasn’t aware of the fact that Seretse is royalty, but when she finds out she is also confronted with Seretse having to move back to his home country. Against the wishes of both their families they marry and prepare for a life in Africa, but it won’t be easy for them at all. Both their families reject them and even the British government appears to play a role in the matter. And if that wasn’t bad enough Seretse discovers that the British empire, the United States and the surrounding neighboring countries (in particular South-Africa) are involved in schemes that regard racial oppression and the outset to exploit the resources of Bechuanaland.

This is director Amma Asante’s (A way of Life, Belle) third film and the film script was written by Guy Hibbert. A United Kingdom is clearly a biographical story because the focus is directed towards a politically driven plot that tells about the events that happened versus creating a romantic love story experience. Thanks to the strong and recognizable moments we get to experience the anger, exhaustion, love and passion that the real Seretse and Ruth might have felt. This film allows us -especially those who know how it feels to be excluded- to identify ourselves with the characters. This film serves doubly as a reminder that those days of imperialism and racism are gone, or so we presume because it’s still in a way present and on the rise -now through populism- in modern day times. We can learn a lot from this story and its compelling message. We all deserve to be equal and love goes beyond boundaries.

When the film starts we kind of jump into it. You can notice this because of the fast paced feel in the beginning of the film, which doesn’t allow any room for the sort of romance that we can fully indulge ourselves in. Of course, I’m talking about the kind of romance that hooks you right from the start. The fastness causes the following; you kind of don’t want to believe particular moments when people are starting to warm up to the idea of having a white queen for example. The character development was missing at times in the beginning and we jumped through time and scenes preventing some good acclimation. Maybe it is because of the expectations that I and spectators in general could have and maybe I should not have had that. I am well aware that there is so much to tell about this amazing story which has to be cramped into a two-hour film format. It’s understandable, but sometimes the development of relations and romance are interesting to see. Somewhere, when we’ve seen a third of the film we get engaged because Seretse’s cause and determination is so genuine that you get emotionally involved with it. You want to see that change and you want all people to be equal, accepted and respected. Just when these touching moments become more present, that is where this film grows on you.

David Oyelowo’s acting experience is overtly foregrounded when he speaks in front of the Bamangwate tribe. He masterfully commands their attention, which stirs one’s emotion, because it comes from the heart. This is answered with a spectacular reaction from the people who in choir yell out “Pula”, which translates to the English word ‘rain’. Rosamund Pike’s performance portrayed a lot of strength in her character as she continuously took a stance against the authorities from her native home country. It is absolutely inspiring because we all know how hard it is to take a stance. Next to that, the people of Bechuanaland are very charming, thankful and appreciative. They extend the first hand and seem so content. Sometimes the acting in the film came off as a bit stiff, more so with the British officials, which can be seen as suitable for their roles, but even then it could have had some more energy. There are many impressive shots that romanticize the Bechuanaland landscapes.

Despite all my critique, it is a beautiful film nonetheless and an important homage to Seretse’s and Ruth’s beautiful boundary crossing story and relationship and the story that leads to the start of the first democracy on the African continent. I believe it is crucial that these stories get told and not pushed aside by whatever is considered mainstream.

In Dutch theatres as from the 30th of March.

All rights of this film and the pictures displayed are owned and reserved to the righful owners.