A UNITED KINGDOM (111 PG-13)
Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana causes an international stir when he marries a white woman from London in the late 1940s.
Director: Amma Asante
Writer: Guy Hibbert (screenplay)
Stars: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport
Closed captioning and descriptive narration available.
It is hard to believe that one man’s choice of a wife could provoke so much sound and fury, but the year was 1947, the place was colonial Africa and the man was a king. Oyelowo plays Seretse Khama, a 26-year-old Oxford law student when he meets Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) at a missionary society dance in London. She is a clerk at Lloyds of London and it is two years since the end of a war that loosened some colour prohibitions in English behaviour. She doesn’t know until she is in love that he is the next king of Bechuanaland, a British protectorate bordering South Africa. He warns her that it will be tough, but Oyelowo puts so much belief into the role that we believe him when he kneels beside the Thames, to ask her to marry him.
In Bechuanaland (or Botswana as we now call it), it gets very rough indeed. His uncle, acting as regent, his sisters, the other chiefs and the whole of the British colonial administration line up against the couple. A few details of timing have been fudged in Guy Hibbert’s excellent script but most of what we see – as unbelievable as it now seems – did happen. The British government did force Khama into exile, to safeguard its access to cheap gold and uranium from South Africa, where intermarriage was a criminal offence.
We have seen sweeping romance many times before in an African setting – such as Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in Out of Africa – but this film triumphs with its veracity, its political and racial nuances and performances of immense power. Oyelowo and Pike vibrate with mutual attraction and Africa is more than just a majestic backdrop. Black British director Amma Asante, who made the superb Belle, makes clear the corruption of colonial power and its humiliating reach, even unto kings. An astonishing story, well told.
– Paul Byrnes, The Sydney Morning Herald