UK Release Date: 25th November 2016
Runtime: 111 minutes
Director: Amma Asante
Writer: Guy Hibbert
Starring: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Terry Pheto, Vusi Kunene, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Jack Lowden
Synopsis: An African prince marries a white British woman while studying in the UK, only to cause a diplomatic crisis when he brings his new bride home to his people.
It’s interesting that Amma Asante‘s heart-warming historical romance A United Kingdom arrived in British cinemas on the same day as Allied, which was a very different drama set at a similar time in history. The latter film was overshadowed by the remarkable lack of chemistry between its two leads and the tabloid gossip surrounding whether sparks may have flown in real life. There’s no such bluster surrounding A United Kingdom, which is a less A-list production and, nonetheless, is a far superior film that marries sweeping, epic visuals with an intimate and, crucially, believable love story.
Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) meets office clerk Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) during a party while he is studying in London. The two briefly date and Seretse reveals that he is the Prince of Bechuanaland, which is modern day Botswana, and must soon return home to claim his throne. Ruth agrees to come with him and the pair are married in Britain. When Seretse and Ruth arrive in Bechuanaland, their marriage is met with disapproval by Seretse’s uncle Tshekedi (Vusi Kunene), who has been ruling the country in his nephew’s absence. They are also told their partnership is unworkable by British diplomats Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport) and Rufus Lancaster (Tom Felton), who are keen to appease neighbouring states.
Like Asante’s previous directorial effort Belle, A United Kingdom is a film that tells a story of political wrangling and moral issues, but does so through the prism of characters and people at the heart of the issues. The script, from Eye in the Sky scribe Guy Hibbert, does a wonderful job of balancing the romantic elements and the difficulties that Seretse and Ruth really faced in making their union work in close proximity to a South Africa that was in the process of enshrining the apartheid system into law. Hibbert and Asante do not short-change either element, creating a movie that is rich thematically and emotionally in equal measure.
David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike together form one of the most believable and compelling screen couples of the year. Oyelowo brings the same statesmanlike sophistication that made him such an impressive Martin Luther King in Selma, painting Seretse as charismatic but troubled. He is a man consumed by love and willing to sacrifice everything for happiness. Pike is, if anything, even stronger as a woman driven by what she thinks is right and determined to stand by her husband even in a country that is alien to her with people who are sceptical as to whether she belongs among them. Jack Davenport and Tom Felton provide sneering support, but it’s Terry Pheto who impresses most as Seretse’s sister, who gradually warms to Ruth in front of our eyes.
The film is helped by the beautiful landscapes it brings to the screen. Asante brings to mind epic directors like David Lean with her work in Botswana, which is contrasted with the chilly, stately rooms of 1940s London. Cinematographer Sam McCurdy brings a real life to all of these scenes, allowing the characters to bask in the warm glow of the hope represented by Seretse and Ruth’s controversial relationship.
A United Kingdom is a gripping movie, with visual beauty and a central relationship made believable by two understated performances. It’s a true story that demands to be more well-known and is especially relevant at a time when tolerance seems quite hard to come by in this world. Amma Asante’s direction prevents the film from feeling overly polemical or political, but there’s always a sense that these issues provide a backdrop to a romance between two people who you genuinely want to see succeed and triumph over adversity.
Pop or Poop?
Amma Asante has once again showcased herself as one of Britain’s most exciting filmmakers with A United Kingdom, which is the gripping true tale of a couple against whom the odds were stacked from the start. Oyelowo and Pike both give awards-worthy performances against scenery that is as jaw-droppingly well shot as anything on the big screen this year.
A United Kingdom might be a modestly budgeted British film, but it feels every inch a historical epic. It’s an absorbing, warm and emotionally complex tale of love and tolerance that demands to be seen.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
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