Mod­ern makeover for a song and dance rou­tine

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

An- had fallen in love with a white woman, of­fice worker Ruth Wil­liams, and in­tended to marry her caused a rift with his un­cle and the ire of the Bri­tish, who feared the mixed-race cou­ple would alien­ate the regime in the neigh­bour­ing Com­mon­wealth coun­try of South Africa.

This story has been brought to the screen by di­rec­tor Amma Asante, who was born in Lon­don to Ghana­ian par­ents and whose pre­vi­ous film, Belle (2013), ex­plored the life of an 18th­cen­tury mixed-race woman, the daugh­ter of an African slave and a Bri­tish naval cap­tain, and the role she played in bring­ing about the ban­ning of slav­ery in Bri­tain. Asante is clearly fas­ci­nated by such real-life sto­ries, and A United King­dom is an en­thralling ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s per­haps dif­fi­cult now to re­alise the enor­mous courage dis­played by Khama, who de­fied the op­po­si­tion of his un­cle and risked re­jec­tion by his tribe, and Wil­liams, who was dis­owned by her par­ents and cru­elly mocked by peo­ple who, at the time, saw the union of a black man and a white woman as akin to crim­i­nal (“Get your


hands off what’s ours!” scream passers-by as the lovers walk down a Lon­don street.)

Then there was the po­lit­i­cal im­pact and the steely courage Khama dis­played in de­fy­ing the Bri­tish of­fi­cials (rather over­played as con­de­scend­ing racists by Jack Daven­port and Tom Fel­ton) at a very volatile time in the his­tory of the Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth. Scenes in which the Bri­tish ex­ert their power to ban­ish Khama from his own coun­try be­cause he has de­fied them are al­most un­be­liev­able when seen today.

The lovers are played by David Oyelowo, whose re­cent roles in Selma and Queen of Katwe have es­tab­lished him as a ma­jor tal­ent, and the sub­lime Rosamund Pike, whose Ruth is ev­ery bit as coura­geous as her hus­band. Leav­ing be­hind her cosily mod­est sub­ur­ban home, her par­ents and her sis­ter, Muriel (Laura Carmichael) — who en­cour­aged Ruth to join her in char­ity work at the Mis­sion­ary So­ci­ety, where she met Khama — Ruth finds her­self in a com­pletely alien and, to her, hos­tile coun­try. This is a so­ci­ety where blacks, in­clud­ing her hus­band, are banned from drink­ing al­co­hol by the Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties and where the other ex­pats want lit­tle to do with her; the scene in which she gives birth in a lo­cal hos­pi­tal is a re­minder of the risks this brave and de­voted woman took.

A United King­dom avoids sen­ti­men­tal­ity in telling this riv­et­ing story and the pho­to­graphs of the real Khama and Ruth, which we see at the end, are a re­minder that this is a love story with a very pos­i­tive con­clu­sion.

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