Modern makeover for a song and dance routine
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
THIS IS A SOCIETY WHERE BLACKS, INCLUDING HER HUSBAND, ARE BANNED FROM DRINKING ALCOHOL
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.