A United Kingdom film review ★★★★★
David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike attack thinly-written parts with gusto in new Amma Assante film A United Kingdom, yet another middling real-life story.
When Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams fell in love in 1947,
their relationship was already made difficult by dint of being interracial:
Khama was from Bechuanaland (now Botswana), and met Williams in London while
studying to be a barrister. But the fact that Khama was also heir to the throne
of Bechuanaland complicated things even more.
When the couple got married, it put a lot of prejudiced
noses out of joint, particularly ones in the government of neighbouring South Africa: a happy interracial marriage just north of the border would have made a mockery of apartheid. South Africa put pressure on
Britain (of which Bechuanaland was protectorate) to intervene, and the Labour
government conspired to have Khama exiled from the country he was supposed to
Seretse eventually became Bechuanaland’s president. It’s a
genuinely inspiring story, turned into a historical pantomime by director Amma
Asante. Its heroes are played with enthusiasm by David Oyelowo and Rosamund
Pike, but due reverence doesn’t make for compelling characterisation, and its
villains are completely fictional people drafted in to personify the real-life governmental
malfeasance. Jack Davenport does dastardly things like raise his eyebrow and
offer Khama a glass of sherry; Felton sports a hat, moustache, and glasses,
presumably so that no one recognises him as Draco Malfoy. They are there to be
splutteringly outraged when bested.
Other characters are even less convincing. One actually
announces himself as ‘just a burnt-out reporter looking for a story’, and then
says nothing for the rest of the film despite having an important part to play.
The actors struggle to get their tongues around stiff sentences that sound less
1950s than Regency era. Faced with such dialogue, Terry Phato (playing
Seretsi’s sister Naledi) should feel relieved that she hasn't been given much to
A United Kingdom isn’t unlikeable – it’s just not very good.
But then true stories are often dully told on screen. Directors seem to think
that that the words ‘inspired by actual events’ can substitute for dramatic
intrigue or three-dimensional characters, when actually an incredible true
story needs extra skill and effort in order to be made credible.
If you want an amazing story loosely dramatized with
clichés, then go see A United Kingdom:
it’s quicker than reading the book (Colour
Bar by Susan Williams). But if you want cinema – if you want style,
character, and ambiguity – we recommend you watch Jackie.
|What||A United Kingdom film review|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
25 Nov 2016 – 25 Jan 2017, Times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more details|