A UNITED KINGDOM @ BFI #LFF

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OPENING NIGHT GALA

Director Amma Asante Screenwriter Guy Hibbert Starring David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Tom Felton, Jack Davenport, Laura Carmichael, Jessica Oyelowo Country Of Origin UK Running Time 105 mins UK Distribution Pathé UK

Category: Opening Night Gala

A UNITED KINGDOM has all the makings of an epic love story. Two young lovers from different worlds, being torn apart by the law insistent on their bond overcoming all obstacles. Directed by Amma Asante (BELLE, 2013) the film tells of the real story of an African King and his English bride, based on the book The Colour Bar by Susan Williams. The film is certainly romantic, characters shine throughout. Yet the story lacks a punch, it isn’t nearly as exciting or colourful as the beautiful surrounding it was shot in.

We watch as Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) and Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) fall in love despite their differences and the lack of approval from those around them. As it is revealed that Seretse is to return to Bechuanaland (now Botswana) to reclaim his rightful place on the throne there is no question that Ruth will go with him. Seretse has to convince his Uncle and his people that his white English wife will not effect his position as King, and Ruth has to prove her strength as the Queen by his side. British politics however, what with the beginnings of apartheid in South Africa, will simply not allow it. This film is about perseverance. About not letting what people believe is wrong change your mind. Strength and love will overcome prejudice. All the performances are wonderful. Rosamund and David have great on screen chemistry, and fully inhabit their roles; David as the powerful and emotive Seretse, and Rosamund as poised yet daring Ruth. Jack Davenport is there as the Imperialist representative, playing the almost pantomime-like Alistair Canning makes for the perfect antagonist, and despite his role provides some humour to the story.

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One scene of the film that particularly struck me was the birth of Ruth and Seretse’s first . We have seen her give up her family and her home to come to an unknown land where she is an outsider to all those around her, hated by the press, hated by her new people, and yet still poised. This scene could have very easily been cut and it wouldn’t have made great bit of difference to the story as a whole. A simply “Ouch a contraction” cut to baby in arms would have given enough narrative to an audience. But Asante dedicated time to this woman going through the trauma of labour. This was a deliberate and active filmmaking decision. By elongating the birthing scenes, cutting to close up of Ruth’s pained face and screams, clutching of nurses hands etc, we see her true immense strength. This is a turning point in Ruth, she is no longer fighting for her marriage to be seen as fair and equal, she is fighting for the right of her child.

Asante rightly said, this film will be placed in the category of ‘Race Films’, held up alongside 12 YEARS A SLAVE and SELMA, when in fact A UNITED KINGDOM is first and foremost a love story. And when looked at in this way, taking the politics out of the foreground and making it simply the thread tying it together, the film is wholly more effective. Everything is through the prism of this couples love. And it’s this layering of love; Seretse’s love for his country, Ruth falling in love with his country, the love for their child, this is what brings the film to it’s emotive climax. Love is what should be the focus, the story, the politics is just a side note.

The Final Word: An Epic Love Story, An OK Film. 

A UNITED KINGDOM is released in the UK 25th November 2016

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