Great story fails as movie

A United Kingdom – Frustratingly Restrained

A compelling story, gifted actors and a gorgeous African setting combine to make what should be a moving and memorable film yet A United Kingdom leaves much to be desired.

Based on the true story of the former king of Botswana and the British woman whose marriage in the late 1940s caused an international uproar, director Amma Asante (Belle) has created a visually lovely film that unfortunately fails to inspire.

It’s not entirely Asante’s fault as the script from Guy Hibbert (Eye In The Sky) oversimplifies not only the characters portrayed, but also the complex themes the film attempts to tackle.  

Seretse Khama (David Oyelowlo – Selma) is the heir to the throne of British protectorate Bechuanaland (later named Botswana) who attends university in London to gain a law degree. While in London, Seretse falls in love with a young, white office clerk Ruth (Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl) in an era where mixed marriages were not only rare, but universally frowned upon.

Seretse and Ruth suffer societal disapproval from all angles. Her middle-class father disowns her, his uncle, the current king disowns him, and even the British government tries to intimidate her into leaving the relationship.

Despite the mounting pressure from all sides, the two are unable to imagine a life apart and marry before Seretse is due to return home.

When they move to Africa, Seretse and Ruth are chagrinned to find that unacceptance to their union has followed them there and extends to the local villagers and even Seretse’s own family.

As Ruth notes, “We’ve completely underestimated this, haven’t we?”

Their marriage becomes a political football as Seretse is called back to London under the pretense of having to fill out important paperwork. Fearing that if he and Ruth were to go together, they would be forever unable to return, he goes alone.

The government promptly exiles him from Bechuanaland and they are forced to spend years living apart.

This is an important and powerful story in an era of intense discrimination and South African apartheid, so it is disappointing that as the stakes become more intense, the film loses its own intensity.

David Oyelowlo is a classically trained stage actor whose emotional connection and commitment to his character is exceptional. We believe his torment between his love for his country and his love for his wife and it is Oyewlowlo’s impassioned performance that absolutely carries the film.

Rosamund Pike is iridescent as the long-suffering Ruth. Pike has a sincerity and a quiet confidence that radiates from the screen and makes her a perfect choice for the role.

Playing a couple forced to live continents apart with minimal communication for years, theirs is a  story that should pull at heart strings yet it doesn’t. There is a safe politeness about A United Kingdom that creates a “made for TV” feel that is a disservice to the content and the actors.

Racism is still a significant problem in 2017 and trailblazers like the Khamas should be noted and celebrated.

While A United Kingdom is an important story, it is a frustratingly unsatisfying one.

I give this film three out of five hearts.

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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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