A United Kingdom (PG)
Rating: 5 / 5
A United Kingdom is a simply marvellous film that delivers on all counts.
It’s 1947, and young African king of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), is in London studying to be a barrister. He meets English girl Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) at a dance, and their attraction is immediate, cemented by a great love of jazz.
They fall for each other hook, line and sinker, despite the difficulties on both sides. Ruth’s father refuses to speak to her, and, after they marry, Seretse’s uncle is furious and tries to persuade Seretse to divorce Ruth.
Ruth is initially rejected by both the native people of Bechuanaland and the white British colonials, as the country is a British protectorate.
But the love and commitment Seretse and Ruth have for each other sees Ruth winning over her husband’s people with her sincere desire to be accepted as one of them.
It’s ironic that she’s not accepted by the white rulers, and the arrogance and racism shown by the British is breathtaking. Against the background of neighbouring South Africa introducing apartheid, and threatening to leave the Commonwealth, Britain will not countenance a black king and white queen, so much political skulduggery is done by the British, resulting in Seretse being exiled while Ruth remains in Bechuanaland.
Seretse proves he is equal to the British political machinations, and while it is a very tough road, he outwits the British, along the way discovering diamond mines in Bechuanaland that allow him to transform its economic fortunes. In order to be with Ruth, Seretse renounces his claim to the throne, but achieves his goal of introducing democracy to what is now Botswana, and becomes its first president.
The power of their love for each other and Botswana sees Ruth and Seretse resist their country being taken over by South Africa, thereby securing Botswana’s independent future. Nelson Mandela called Seretse ‘a shining beacon of light and inspiration’ and, after seeing this film, so will the viewer.
Director Amma Assante is British-Ghanaian, and she shot the film in the locations where the Khamas lived, including their first house in Botswana and the hospital where Ruth gave birth.
Oyelowo and Pike each embody the strength that was needed to get through such trying times. It is nothing short of inspiring to watch these two towering performances, and see the wonderful chemistry between them.
Jack Davenport gives an excellent arrogant performance as Sir Alistair Canning, with Jessica Oyelowo (David’s wife) as Lady Canning. As a white Englishwoman, Jessica commented that there were some parallels with her own marriage to David.
Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy, Tom Felton, is British official Rufus Lancaster, while Downton Abbey’s Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) gives a strong performance as Ruth’s sister Muriel.
The film is a testament to how an incredibly strong love and a shared passion for a country can make huge positive change, if you can leap the hurdles and keep your eye on the prize.
Highlight: the power of an inspiring true story
Red flag: partial nudity