A United Kingdom


A royal embrace.

(2016) True Life Drama (Fox Searchlight) David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael, Terry Pheto, Jessica Oyelowo, Vusi Kunene, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Arnold Oceng, Anastasia Hille, Charlotte Hope, Theo Landey, Abena Ayivor, Jack Lowden, Zackary Momoh, Nicholas Rowe, Billy Boyle, Kevin Hand, Raymond Burnet, Sofia Fisher. Directed by Amma Assante

 

We often use fairy tales as a means of fantasizing about how our lives could be better; we could marry royalty, for example. However unless one is already of royal blood, that doesn’t often happen in the real world. It does, however, sometimes actually happen.

Ruth Williams (Pike) is a typist in the post-war London of 1947. While the city is still rebuilding after the Blitz, there is a sense of optimism that things are going to get better. Still, there isn’t a whole lot of things to do. Her sister Muriel (Carmichael) invites her to a dance given by the Missionary Society she belongs to and Ruth, a little bit reluctant at first, knows that at least she’ll get an opportunity to dance which is one of her favorite pastimes.

Also at this dance is Seretse Khama (Oyelowo) who is in the last months of studying for his law degree. He is from the tiny British protectorate of Bechuanaland (the present-day Botswana). He has a liking for jazz and like Ruth, he loves to dance. The two bond over these likes and Ruth’s charm as she apologizes for the British musicians’ watered down version of swing.

The two fall deeply in love and within a year Seretse knows she is The One. But it is 1947 and interracial marriages while not strictly illegal Just Aren’t Done. That Ruth is marrying a black man causes her father to refuse to speak to her for many years. There is another added twist however; Seretse is the King of Bechuanaland whose Uncle Tshekedi (Kunene) has been ruling there as regent while Seretse went to England to learn how to improve his poverty-stricken country. It is traditional that he must marry someone from his tribe who will act as Mother to the people, supervising their spiritual well-being. Tshekedi is certain that the tribe will never accept a white ruler particularly since the British treat them with at best condescension or at worst with outright contempt.

The couple doesn’t only have opposition from the inside. The protectorate is bordered by Rhodesia on one side and South Africa on another at a time when South Africa is implementing their apartheid policy. England needs the resources from their wartime ally to remain competitive in the Cold War – much of their Uranium comes from South Africa – so they are especially sensitive to that country’s complaints.

As Great Britain rules the territory, they forbid the union. When Ruth and Seretse defy them, Seretse is exiled from his homeland. While Ruth is pregnant she is alone in a country where she is not particularly loved and does not speak the language, Seretse whips up international indignation and condemnation against Britain’s heartless move. Will he be able to rule the country he loves or give up the woman he loves in order to do that?

This comes to us from Assante who previously directed the critically acclaimed Belle. She doesn’t have quite the touch she exhibited there this time; the movie overall comes off a little bit flat, although I must confess that Da Queen liked it a lot more than I did. That doesn’t mean I think this is a terrible movie however; let’s just say she thinks it’s a great movie and I think it’s a really good one.

First and foremost you have to start with the performances of Oyelowo (I’m referring to David here as there are two Oyelowos in the movie; his real life wife Jessica plays the snarky wife of one of the snarky British diplomats) and Pike. The two are two of the best actors in the UK at the moment and Oyelowo, who was denied an Oscar nomination that he should have gotten for Selma, is dominant here as Seretse. He is regal and smart like the real Seretse Khama, carrying himself with dignity and poise throughout a trying ordeal. Pike also has that working class aspect of her, a bright sunny English rose who is beautiful and far stronger than she seems. The one problem that I had is that the relationship between the two doesn’t feel real to me, at least not authentic.

Botswana has a distinct beauty to it, the kind that is easy to love but hard to endure. Cinematographer Sam McCurdy captures that nicely, giving us raw vistas and compelling close-ups. We also get a sense of Colonial Africa particularly in how the British treat the native culture with thorough disdain. While I’m sure that there were British colonists who loved the country equally and respected the culture that had been established there, none of them make an appearance in this movie.

Seretse Khama and his wife Ruth are both revered in Botswana today (their eldest son is President of that country as of this writing). Their story is less known outside of their home country or even in Ruth’s home country these days. It’s a good thing that their story is being told and the importance of their stand for justice – and for love – is clear. Perhaps this isn’t the movie they deserve but it’s a good one nonetheless

REASONS TO GO: The performances by Oyelowo and Pike are exemplary. The exterior shots of Botswana are truly lovely.
REASONS TO STAY: I might have wished for a little less Hollywood and a little more Botswana. The love story feels a bit more pedestrian than it should have been.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity including some racial slurs and a scene of sensuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The home that is used as the house that Ruth and Seretse live in is the one they actually lived in; also the hospital where Ruth actually gave birth is used for filming the birth scene here.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/8/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Crown
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The Ottoman Lieutenant

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The Young Victoria


The Young Victoria

We are QUITE amused!!!

(2009) Biographical Drama (Apparition) Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Thomas Kretschmann, Mark Strong, Julian Glover. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee

Most Americans have a picture in their head about Queen Victoria of England (if they even know who she is at all) of a dour old matronly sort dressed entirely in black with a perpetually sour expression, exclaiming “We are not amused!” in a posh accent. The woman who would be the longest-reigning queen in English history was obviously much more than that; she was also, at one time, a young woman.

As the movie begins, King William (Broadbent) nears the end of his reign. He is childless, so the daughter of his late brother, the Duke of Kent is his heir. Victoria (Blunt) lives in isolation with her mother (Richardson) and her mom’s lover, Sir John Conroy (Strong). Both of them very much want a regency with Sir John taking control of the throne, but Victoria is having none of it. In a show of the backbone that would define her reign, she refuses to sign papers handing over her authority and rights to her mother. It will not be the last time she will be underestimated.

Sir John isn’t the only one with designs on the crown. King Leopold of Belgium (Kretschmann) is eager to marry off his son, Prince Albert (Friend) to the young girl, so he coaches his son on Victoria’s likes and dislikes. She finds him out and when she confronts him with it, he owns up. This impresses her.

Good thing too, because she needs all the friends she can get. The Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (Bettany) appears on the surface to be Victoria’s ally but he’s been playing the political game for so long that he can’t be trusted. Everybody at court wants some measure of power, and it is up to her to sort through it. It isn’t always easy, but with Albert at her side, she has an ally and confidant that she can at last truly count on.

This is an impressive-looking film much of it filmed at the actual locations the events took place at (with the notable exception of Buckingham Palace). The costumes are sumptuous (the film won an Oscar for it) and the movie appears to be meticulously researched. As such, it’s candy for the eyes.

It’s also candy for the soul as Blunt gives a terrific performance as the young queen. Ever since her acclaimed work in The Devil Wears Prada Blunt has been looking for that one role that can show she can carry a film on her back, and this more than does the trick – she is every inch the Queen and yet just as vulnerable as the rest of us. While she didn’t get a nomination, this was certainly Oscar-worthy work.

The movie lets us down in that it drags quite a bit through all the turns and twists of court politics. Sometimes it gets hard to tell one lord from the other duke and what their agenda is, but consider this is essentially a condensed version of what really happened. Imagine trying to keep track of it if you were Victoria herself.

The love story between Victoria and Albert are at the heart of the movie and it is important that the relationship seem realistic. Fortunately, the chemistry between Blunt and Friend is genuine, and the relationship works; it’s easy to see why Victoria adored him so, and why she mourned his untimely death for her entire life.

While this isn’t perfect, it is nonetheless quite satisfactory both as history lesson and as entertainment. While there are some factual fudging, there isn’t nearly as much as is usual for a Hollywood production and that’s reason to give thanks right there.

WHY RENT THIS: Very informative on the life of one of the most influential figures of the English monarchy. Blunt does a tremendous job in the title role, and the production is authentic-looking and lush.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is slow-moving at times and keeping some of the palace intrigue straight is a bit tiring.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of violence, some semi-chaste sexuality and a few bad words. While this will bore most of the little ones, it is certainly fit for nearly all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: One of Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting is played by Princess Beatrice of York, the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Victoria. Her mother, Sarah Ferguson, is one of the film’s producers.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on “The Real Queen Victoria” featuring excerpts from her diary as well as the actors giving their perceptions – occasionally inaccurate ones – on Her Majesty. There is also a featurette on the Oscar-winning work of Costume Designer Sandy Powell.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $27.4M on a production budget of $35M; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Post Grad