Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom tells the uplifting biographical story of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), King Of Bechuanaland (Botswana) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). She was the blue collar office worker he married in 1948, faced with harsh opposition from their families, the British Empire and the South African governments. They defied their families, the barbaric Apartheid Regime and the pompously arrogant British Empire. Their love was a powerful tool in the start of the British Empire’s dismantlement as they transformed their nations and inspired the world in the process.
Amma Asante’s historical romance drama is a story of star-crossed lovers, though not in “fair Verona” yet it’s “alike in dignity” and set between England and Botswana, shot on location in both countries. Typically with dramas of this magnitude, we are witness to a bigoted British government. This is depicted through Sir Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport) and his wife Lady Lilly Canning (Jessica Oyelowo) in addition to the slimy Rufus Lancaster (Tom Felton). This is a story akin to the Bible’s David versus Goliath. The big bad imperial Britain is bullying small Bechuanaland (Botswana). Britain has a knack for throwing its weight around via: politics, deception and outright thievery. And the opposing, white English politicians pass off their disdain of interracial marriages as a matter of tradition or being “not proper”. It was unheard of. It wasn’t that long ago that black people were slaving on the plantations in the Americas and The West Indies and now one is married to a white. Poppycock, is what many implied it as, and that is an opinion that both classes share, whether that be the proletariat or bourgeois people.
Asante found a part of British history that Britain would rather forget. She shows the good, the bad and ugly sides of the Empire, yet doesn’t bombard audiences with harsh visual imagery, rather gives your mind a battering instead. The film is ideologically harrowing. David Oyelowo (Selma) and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) give great performances as our dynamic duo Seretse and Ruth. Back in these times, relationships like this were a no-fly zone. Interracial relationships, let alone interracial marriages were not to be entertained. This movie had the ability to become cringeworthy and slushy. Considering the talent involved, I knew it would be anything but that. This is certainly a British film because it doesn’t have this uneasy apartheid when casting romantic protagonists, let alone having a black director in Amma Asante (Belle).
Oyelowo plays this member of Botswanan royalty, a young man studying law in 1947 London. He is Prince Of Bechuanaland (Botswana), one of many countries that Britain has collected as part of the Empire. This is a nation under imperial rule through a native council run by black tribesman to keep the peace. Whilst studying, he falls, and falls hard in love with Ruth (Pike). She’s a woman of solitude and employed in an office as typist, yet claims that she’s not. Normally, she comes hand in hand with her sister Muriel Williams (Laura Carmichael) in all fairness is a nerd and very unracist. Laura Carmichael (Downton Abbey) is a great talent and that is evident in her supporting role, though she has limited screen time.
They get married and return to the sandy Botswana, much to the annoyance of the African people who only see that she is white and not the type of person she is. Racism occurs on both sides, from white to black and black to white. The natives are suspicious of their white queen and the British Government are sweating buckets, scared of the South African backlash. By backlash, the economical and political retaliation that the South Africans will release when they see country run by Britain directly opposing the Apartheid Regime, depriving Britain of its gold and minerals. Other factors that irk the governments are things like Ruth giving birth to a mixed race child. An event that only adds insult to injury.
Our prince was sent away to England for nearly twenty years of his life to study. When he came back, he was intelligent enough to see that the British were manipulating his people; even if his kindred were not savvy enough to see it, hence exchanging sovereign power for actual democracy that would give the black people of Botswana the freedom to rule their own country free from the white supremacy. This movie is very much about race, and that is shown incredibly well. Some scenes are very harsh yet there are some that are beautiful, merging the colour pallets of black and white.
This is a heartwarming romantic biography drama that tackles race, identity and gender in a thought-provokingly honest, but also a sometimes witty and amusing way (look to Ruth on gender). Filled with great performances in the main and supporting casts, a grand musical score and shots that will leave you speechless, A United Kingdom is certainly one to watch out for come awards season.