A United Kingdom
Directed by Amma Assante
Released February 10, 2017
Love is not always an easy thing. For those who want to be together and happen to come from the same community, or those for whom such things don’t matter, it may not be complicated. But in many cases, stepping outside one’s culture, nationality, or religion can be mired in conflict. When race and royalty are inserted into the mix, the difficulty becomes exponentially greater, since there is an entire history to be factored into just one relationship. Fortunately, such forward-thinking unions do happen sometimes, and looked back upon, they are incredibly inspiring.
While studying at university in London, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), the prince and future king of Bechuanaland, which is now the country of Botswana, meets and falls in love with Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). Ruth’s family does not approve of her marrying a black man, but that does not compare to the reaction of Seretse’s uncle and many of the members of his tribe at his bringing home a white woman to be their queen. Seretse and Ruth might fight for their love to be accepted by everyone around them as the threat of increased British colonial rule looms with Seretse’s claim to leadership uncertain.
Director Amma Assante, whose previous film was the highly-regarded “Belle,” describes this film as instantly appealing as a “sweeping romance.” This story of two continents and of political disagreement is centered more than anything on the love between these two people. Assante admits that this film isn’t really about the politics and doesn’t show the “rawness of colonialism” since that would have taken viewers out of the experience. As one a black female director working today, she acknowledges that she still has something to prove, and making a film that truly represents Botswana was a rewarding process. Oyelowo stresses the value of “different perspective gaining a larger platform in terms of storytelling” since they have been marginalized, and cites this film as his third time recently working with a female director of color. He also notes that, for him, there was a “magical and powerful” overlap between him as a person and him as a character when he delivered a passionate speech about Seretse’s love for Ruth, due in part to his own interracial marriage. Pike describes not previously having “seen the experience of a white person craving inclusion in an African world,” and how filming in Botswana in many of the places where the film actually takes place was a transformative and educational experience.
Coupled with “Loving,” a film that came up during roundtable interviews with the cast and director, this film shows important historical instances of people declaring their love above all in a society that wasn’t anywhere near ready to accept them. Discussing racism in the UK, Oyelowo points to a scene in the film where Ruth is surprised to see a “whites only” sign outside an entrance in Botswana, saying that he’d have that and know where he stands than deal with something more “insidious and undercover.” Though it favors love over a grittier, more realistic representation of the challenges presented to people of color who are not in power, this film is an endearing, affirming representation of what it means to stand for something that should still ring incredibly true today. Assante demonstrates herself to be a reliable and talented director with Oyelowo and Pike fitting their roles very well and delivering passionate, evocative performances in this positive film about a remarkable development in recent African history.