Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom took its premiere bow at Toronto on Friday night, starring David Oyelowo as Bechuanaland prince Seretse Khama, exiled from his homeland and prevented from taking his place as king, all for the love of his wife: a white British woman, Ruth Williams, played by Rosamund Pike. Greeted warmly by critics, it joins a plethora of movies tackling race issues in this year’s festival, and makes a fine companion piece with Jeff Nichols’ celebrated Loving, which tells its own tale of interracial marriage during a time of profound racial conflict. But while the Lovings of Nichols’ film were an ordinary couple in a predominantly white community, Khama and his wife made international headlines, and the politically influenced attempts to disrupt their union created shockwaves in what is now Botswana.
Asante credits Oyelowo for bringing her onto the project, which she says has resonance for race issues that still exist today. “There isn’t really any point in telling stories from the past unless they are speaking, somewhat, to our today,” she explains. “The first question you have to ask yourself when you’re trying to get a period piece financed is, what is the relevance for today? We’ve come a long way in terms of race, but we still have a really long way to go in so many areas.”
Oyelowo, who delivers a bravura performance in the film that recalls his turn as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, says an artist’s job is to reflect society. “Often what you have to do, to give society context, is to go back, for the history of this. That’s when people go, ‘Oh, we’re not just in a moment.’ ”
Check out the video above for more from Asante and Oyelowo.