On the heels of the interracial marriage story Loving comes A United Kingdom, the true story of another mixed marriage threatened by the political climate. Instead of the 1950s and ’60s Deep South of the landmark Richard and Mildred Loving case, this story takes place in 1947 in London and Botswana (or the British colony that became Botswana). Both films actually had their world premieres at September’s Toronto Film Festival which is where Fox Searchlight picked up Kingdom and decided to hold it out of the current Oscar race for a less crowded launch this week. As I say in my video review above, A United Kingdom is a smart and quite moving film for grown-up audiences, and it’s nice to see something of this awards caliber come around now for discerning adults seeking something compelling.
David Oyelowo plays African prince Seretse Khama, heir apparent to his father’s throne in Botswana. But all of that is threatened when, on a trip to England, he meets and falls in love with a white woman, Ruth Williams, played exquisitely by Rosamund Pike. Their whirlwind romance and subsequent marriage causes no end of problems not only in the UK, where officials who can dictate the fate of Botswana are outraged, but also in Khama’s country, where he meets opposition from his family and confused subjects. An impassioned speech in which he professes love for country but also his wife helps to change some minds, but that is just the beginning of his troubles as the Brits threaten to take him away from the land he will rule and banish him to Jamaica for five years.
Alistair Canning, as played cooly and evily by Jack Davenport, is the heavy in all of this, forcing a separation between between Khama and Ruth as the politics of it all trumps their desire to be together. Of course it isn’t easy for Ruth either; she has family opposing her decision of the heart, and she must adjust to being the potential queen in a land very foreign to her — a place where she looks like no other woman.
Beautifully filmed in actual locations where the events took place, it has been directed Brit helmer Amma Asante, who gives it a special touch just by being a woman of color — but she’s also an extremely talented director who gives the film great scope and gravitas. Guy Hibbert, who wrote last year’s exceptional drone drama Eye In The Sky, has delivered another fine script here, capturing the political tension behind these events but never losing focus that at its heart this is really a very human love story. What a perfect entry for Valentine’s Day for audiences who thought they only had the very different Fifty Shades Darker as a romantic option.
Oyelowo, who was robbed of a deserved Oscar nomination as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, delivers another great performance here, and though it is a looooong ways off hopefully will not be forgotten again when the 2017 Oscar season gets going. As in Selma he gets to make powerful speeches, but here they are lined with a personal touch. Pike is perfect casting as Ruth and is wonderfully understated but always believable.
A United Kingdom is another one of those historical true tales that wouldn’t come to light except for the vision of determined filmmakers, and in this case Oyelowo himself who has tried for six years to bring this to the screen. He is a producer along with Brunson Green, Peter Heslop, Charlie Mason, Rick McCallum and Justin Moore-Lewy. Fox Searchlight opens the film in limited release today in New York and Los Angeles, expanding throughout the month that celebrates both valentines and Black History, the perfect combination for A United Kingdom.
Do you plan to see the movie? Let us know what you think.