Belle (2014)

Belle (2014)


True story period drama, set in 18th-century Britain, about Dido Elizabeth Belle (rising star Gugu Mbatha-Raw) - the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Navy Admiral. As the years go on, Dido's social status wavers when her public image provokes tension among her peers... Co-stars two-time Oscar nominees Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson.... More

"Fans of English period drama are accustomed to its gorgeous settings, social graces, and sophisticated language. But what's often missing from those adaptations of Jane Austen or the Brontës is the institution at the foundation of that refined life: slavery...  In late eighteenth century England, Belle is born to a white British admiral and a black Caribbean slave. The admiral's well-bred family is appalled, but when he returns to sea, custom dictates that they raise his child as an aristocrat. Britain's imposing Lord Mansfield (Wilkinson) is both Dido's uncle and the family patriarch, and instructs this biracial young woman to respect both the law and the social codes of her station. She is a lady, but an embarrassment." (Toronto International Film Festival)Hide

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In a tale of 18th-century aristocratic English society so unlikely it could only be true, Belle, the illegitimate daughter of an English Naval officer and an African mother, is shipped to England to live with her father’s uncle, Lord Mansfield. Belle’s dark skin precludes her dining alongside her aristocratic kin, but that doesn’t stop her circulating after meals, generating shock and amusement as guests realise Lord and Lady Mansfield (delightfully played by Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson), have a “mulatto” in their midst.... More

Director Amma Asante concocts a lavish period piece, complete with lush costumes, sumptuous sets and classy character actors. Miranda Richardson and Penelope Wilton add humour and gravitas, whilst the requisite love story comes courtesy of Belle and dashing young lawyer, John Davinier. Of course, there’s upper class opposition to their mixed race match until, in a delicious soap operatic twist, Belle inherits a stack of cash; pitting wealth against race.

With its Downton Abbey echoes, Belle may not pack the brutal punch of 12 Years a Slave, but its subplot’s a heavy hitter. For Lord Mansfield’s the Judge presiding over the Zong case – wherein slave traders drowned 142 sick Africans; claiming damage insurance for their “spoiled goods”. It’s the courtroom scenes and those in which Belle and John attempt to sway Lord Mansfield’s ruling that provide the movie’s dramatic and moral core, in a sumptuous costume drama that deals admirably, within the confines of the genre, with the thorny issues of snobbery, sexism, and slavery.Hide

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78% of critics recommend.
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  • A compelling story on several levels... mainly it's about an intelligent young woman who refuses to accept her allotted place in society - and Gugu Mbatha-Raw is terrific. Full Review

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