The much awaited follow up to Amma Asante’s breakout film Belle, taking on the real life story of Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana and the international stir caused when he married a white woman from London in the late 1940s. Starring: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael, Terry Pheto, Jessica Oyelowo, Arnold Oceng, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Anastasia Hille.
Opening up on a blossoming romance between Seretse (Oyelowo) and Ruth (Pike), it’s sweet, natural, classic and as often is the case in 1940s set films, rather instant; the two strike up a conversation, a spark ignites and so it begins. Of course a key element to that is chemistry, if there isn’t something convincing between the two then the film would fall apart in approximately 5 minutes but thankfully not, when Oyelowo and Pike make an interesting pair, it may not be the strongest of connections but it’s certainly more than enough. As the two begin their much debated relationship our villains, if you like, arise in the form of Alistair Canning (Davenport) and Rufus Lancaster (Felton), informing our couple that if they marry they will face serious consequences; Davenport of course can give an upper class, aristocratic character well but there’s something about the way he’s presented that only slightly avoids stepping into pantomime territory, not helped by Felton’s Lancaster who comes across similarly, with his perfectly posh accent. While their performances are convincing, there’s not an entirely threatening air to either presence, rather an irritation; which highlights a problem with the film in general, there’s a lack of strength to the issue, with so much sentimentality running rampant, the message and spirit of the story becomes weakened to a point of being more romance than political injustice and personal determination, it’s still there just in the background.
As the film progresses to more testing moments for our characters, Oyelowo stands out with the sheer emotion he puts into his performance, Pike does well also but there’s a quality to her character that feels somewhat washed out and simplistic, slightly undermining the reality that’s trying to be portrayed of such a strong and determined woman. Undoubtedly the film will draw out a tear or two, it may be sentimentally driven but it is still a moving story of love and unwavering loyalty and resolve, it’s a fascinating story that feels surprisingly rather unknown in today’s world. Visually however, it feels a strong representation of two separate worlds, the dark and grey London versus the natural beauty and light of Botswana, of course it’s rather obvious comparison to make but that doesn’t dampen its effect.
Overall it does feel as if the film has ended up being a version of a politically charged personal story that’s being viewed through rose tinted glasses, softening what must have been a rather harsh reality for Seretse and Ruth Khama. It’s certainly a story worth telling that has a great deal of emotion running rampant but it is slightly disappointing that it doesn’t attempt to hit harder and garner more strength.