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Based on the true story of Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana and his wife Ruth Williams Khama, A United Kingdom tells of their romance, its place within the post-war political climate and the struggle for Botswana’s independence. This is a love story which must persevere in a time of apartheid and colonialism, helping break down the barriers between African royalty and a white, typing pool clerk from London.
From the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice to ITV’s huge international hit, Downton Abbey, period dramas have risen in popularity over the past couple decades. While A United Kingdom is a biographical romance with a theatrical release, it is these televisual events that I’m more closely reminded of. Amma Asante elevates this above “Sunday afternoon spectacle” by imbuing this real-life fairy-tale of a girl falling for a handsome prince, with resonant themes that sadly, are no less relevant today.
David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike are superb as the romantic core of this film. They each bring a unique strength to their roles and bolster the well-crafted dialogue with dimensionality and empathy. While there are some characters and visual elements that threaten to drag the feature into dusty, Merchant Ivory territory (I’m looking at you Jack Davenport and Tom Felton), the humour and warmth that permeates throughout makes for a heart-warming drama.
The cold, harsh grey-tones of early 20th century London and the vibrant earth-tones of Botswana reinforce the contrasts and perceptions of colour, race and culture. The political minefield and moustache-twirling awfulness of imperialism adds pressure to Seretse and Ruth, bringing them closer together and strengthening their resolve. This is handled with zero cynicism and the very notion of multiculturalism couldn’t be more important in our current socio-political climate.
Overall, A United Kingdom offers a familiar story told by an accomplished storyteller. It’s worth watching for the performances alone as both David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike share a palpable chemistry that compensates for the other, more pedestrian aspects of the film.
A United Kingdom launches in the UK November 25th and in the US February 17th