LFF Review: A United Kingdom

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60%
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Moving

A touching tale of love which succeeded against all odds. Although slow at times, it's a story that will uplift you and inspire.

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A United Kingdom is a hidden gem of a story, one which few have heard of, but many have felt the impact of. The charming yet powerful love story follows English woman Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) and King of Bechuanaland (modern day Botswana) Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), as they fall for each other despite the forbidden circumstances of their love.

Directed by diversity advocate Amma Asante, the film, shot in Botswana and London, is an incredible tale of love that struggles against all odds, shaking two nations. Right from the offset, we see the spark ignited between Ruth and Seretse, an instinctual love which is willing to power through the racial prejudices which restrict both of them from marrying and being accepted in each other’s native countries. Jumping straight into the heart of the narrative, it is engaging right from the start, and even though we don’t know much about these people, their love is so mesmerising and genuine that it’s easy to fall in love with the story and characters instantly.

As a unique story it’s one that is uniquely told; it does not follow the conventions of most films about race, avoiding the N word and other predictable insults. This thusly allows the main plot to be explored in greater depth, rather than attempting to shock the audience with attitudes towards black people in 1940s Britain, which we are well aware of. As well as this, despite being set in a time when courting and male authority was the norm in relationships, there is a great sense of equality between Ruth and Seretse. Seretse knows that he lives in a world where he is not treated equally, and perhaps for this reason he has a gentleness and touching respect for Ruth, who he fights the legal and moral battle alongside in trying to get both governments (and families) to accept their marriage.

David Oyelowo delivers a powerful performance in which he must be a politician, a husband and a father. His love for Ruth is powerful and totally convincing throughout. The passion with which he delivers dialogue, especially the divisive speeches to his tribe in Bechuanaland, are hugely moving and actually quite overwhelming. In the same way, Rosamund Pike is a perfect fit for Ruth, a role in which she plays with grace and pride, yet doesn’t shy away from a fight when necessary.

In the same way that the film does not concede to the stereotypes of films about race, it does not do this with Africa either. What we see is a unique perspective of Africa, not just staged with stereotypical straw huts and dusty villages, but with politics and embassies; far from the all-too-common depiction of Africa as alien and primitive. Sadly though, this overall feel of authenticity is lessened by some side performances by the likes of Tom Felton, Jack Davenport and Nicholas Lyndhurst, performances which feel like actors who are trying to act, rather than actors just being the characters. This is a direct contrast to the authentic and believable performances delivered by the protagonists.

Although A United Kingdom is filled with many commendable merits, there is something missing in making the film as strong as it should be. The story is undoubtedly powerful, but something about the pacing and overall execution falls short. Perhaps it is too reliant on the power of the plot to carry it through, and the impact lessens throughout; we’re left wanting to be wowed by the film’s technical aspects which fall short. The conflict seems to be sugar-coated, and although the passion of the cause is evidently important to Ruth and Seretse, there’s a lack of urgency and the drama of the disagreements just isn’t as engrossing as it should be.

Amma Asante has done a fantastic job in creating a unique film that is thoroughly uplifting and very moving, but when it boils down to the overall quality, we’re left relying on the story alone to impress us. When taken scene by scene, instead of being mesmerised as we are by Ruth and Seretse’s love, the political and legal struggle just isn’t as enticing.

A United Kingdom, directed by Amma Asante, is being shown as part of the 2016 BFI London Film Festival. Further information about the festival including screening times and ticket information can be found here.

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Former Film Editor for The Edge, second year history student, Irish dancer and film enthusiast. My biggest inspiration is by Bear Grylls. Yes Bear Grylls. Originally from West London.

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