Cast includes: Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Touch), Matthew Goode (Match Point), Emily Watson (War Horse), Tom Wilkerson (Michael Clayton)
Writer: Misan Sagay (Their Eyes Were Watching God)
Director: Amma Asante (A Way of Life)
Genre: Period drama (104 minutes)
In 1764… the harbor of a British slave-trading colony is no place for a little girl. That’s where Captain John Lindsay finds his child, Dido Elizabeth Belle. The child doesn’t recognize him because he’s been away so long, but she warms to him when he gives her a sweet. “How lovely she is… so much of her mother in her.” Her mother… now dead… was obviously black because that’s the coloring the child has inherited. “I have to take you to the life you were born to have,” says Lindsay. Based on a true story, we next see Lindsay when he arrives at the English country estate of his uncle, Lord Mansfield. He’s brought his daughter to live with his aunt and uncle while he’s at sea. “She’s black… a detail you neglected to mention,” says Lord Mansfield. Lindsay knows they’ll warm to her in time. Anyway, Lord and Lady Mansfield are guardians of another niece about the same age. They can tell people Dido is there as a companion for Elizabeth. That solves some issues for now.
By the time Dido and Elizabeth have become young ladies, there’s another concern… “What’s to become of Dido when we’re no longer here?” We now know that Dido is quite smart and very talented. In fact, she outshines her cousin in almost every way, except that Elizabeth will likely find a husband, even though she has no dowry. There’s no hope for Dido… until the news of her father’s death and an inheritance of £2,000 a year. That makes Dido independently wealthy and secures her future. It’s matchmaking season for Elizabeth, though, and we soon learn some harsh realities about title, status, family, money… and the prospects of finding a suitable match. In the meantime, Dido… who has been totally sheltered from any weighty issues of the day… has learned about the Zong case that her uncle will be ruling on. Unlike other young ladies, Dido has more than a superficial interest in the case and what it represents.
Belle may be the passing of the torch from filmmaking legends Merchant and Ivory to a younger generation of talented filmmakers. This is the first major film for writer/producer, Misan Sagay and the director Amma Asante. It’s very much in the tradition of a Merchant Ivory film, but with an interesting level of complexity you might not be expecting. The Zong case was an actual case, which had significant implications for the British slave trade, and Lord Mansfield did indeed have to make an historic ruling. On one level, the film is a romance, but the case is a fascinating bit of British history, which is intertwined in the story of the young mixed-race woman who doesn’t fit in. The film is wonderful to look at. The acting is excellent, and the story is more interesting than you might expect from watching the trailer. As it turns out, freedom is a relative term… especially for women in 18th century England. Without marrying well, a woman of status but no dowry has few options. “We women are but the property of men.”
4 popped kernels
An English aristocrat wants to give his illegitimate black daughter the kind of upbringing he believes she was born to, but the realities are quite complicated
Rated: R (Sexual Content)
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Mainstream Limited Release
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: High-End Production
Nutshell: Illegitimate black daughter of a titled Englishman
Social Significance: Informative & Thought Provoking