Fox Searchlight Pictures 111 Minutes PG-13
This is an actual story of forbidden love, international intrigue and family conflict you’ve probably never heard before. Even the star of the movie, David Oyelowo (Selma), whose family is from Nigeria (and yes, as he told us in at our screening, his father IS a Nigerian Prince!) was not aware of these events until reading the book, “Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation” by Susan Williams. They’re played out on the world stage shortly after the end of World War II. Click here to see David Oyelowo talk about the surprise visit to the set by the current President of Botswana and seeing his parents depicted in a scene.
David Oyelowo is Seretse Khama, the soon to be king of Bechuanaland, now the independent nation of Botswana. Oyelowo is also a producer of the film which took 6 years to bring to the big screen. He says he wanted to show what Seretse fought for, that no matter the color of your skin, we are more alike than we are different.
As the film opens, Seretse is in London studying law before ascending to the throne when he spies Ruth Williams, a London office worker, (Rosamund Pike) at a Missionary dance. Their mutual love of jazz and dancing quickly leads to love, courtship and marriage.
This interracial union, although technically legal in Britain, is considered an outrage on every level. Ruth’s father disowns her, street thugs taunt the couple, Seretse’s uncle Tshedkedi (Vusi Kunene) challenges his ascension to rule and the British Government banishes him to favor relations with apartheid South Africa.
David Oyelowo began the groundwork on this film while he was in the midst of Selma. Director Amma Asante (Belle) is also is the daughter of African parents. She not only brings her sensibility of how to direct strong women, but also focuses on the intelligence and dignity of African men. These are traits not usually accorded them on screen.
Asante and writer Guy Hibbert do their best work re-creating 1947 London and the start of the love story. As the story unfolds the two main characters transform into icons of good fighting evil and lose some of their charm. Seretse is mostly stalwart and composed in the face of unending pressure from the self-serving, condescending, racist British mid-level smarmy bureaucrats played by Jack Davenport and Tom Felton. They are fictionalized characters. The political drama thread of the story gets a bit jumbled.The British are looking out for their economic interests relating to South Africa while using Seretse and his uncles as pawns. Seretse ultimately outwits the Brits to protect the Tribe and keep their coming riches in diamond mining.
Ruth morphs into the Mother of the Nation. She seems to love every bit of hardship that life in the dusty, poor desert throws at her. It’s easy to see how Seretse could fall in love with her. In most of her scenes it appears as if Ruth’s skin is glowing and her eyes are wide with curiosity, love and excitement. Just like Seretse, her characterization is almost too good. They’re too perfect. Yet Pike exudes emotion and an excellent screen presence.
Despite the feeling that this couple feels a bit too heroic and strong enough to stand up to the Evil Empire, their love story rings true. They make an engaging couple whose faces both shine when on screen together.
At our screening, he told the story of the only other time they acted together, in Jack Reacher. He fired a taser into her back. She was also pregnant at the time. Apparently Rosamund got past that rocky start to their acting collaboration.
A United Kingdom is a love story that also serves as a history lesson. Oyelowo told us about the melding of those two threads during the filming of the movie. While shooting a scene in Botswana the filming was interrupted by a helicopter landing. Out stepped the President of Botswana, Ian Khama, the son of Seretse and Ruth Kharma. He sat behind Oyelowo (he was not in this scene) and watched as Rosamund Pike performed. When the camera stopped rolling he turned to David and said, “I never thought I’d see my parents again.”