Upon the untimely death of his father, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) was crowned the King of Bechuanaland at the tender age of 4. But his Uncle Tshekedi (Vusi Kunene) assumed the reins of power until the heir apparent could complete his education.
While studying law in Great Britain, Seretse fell in love at first sight with Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a lowly clerk at Lloyd’s of London. Their whirlwind romance ignited an international firestorm of controversy because of their color, not their class, differences.
For, he was black and she was white, and this was 1946, a time of strict racial segregation. So, the couple’s scandalous liaison was met with resistance both in England and back of Africa.
Although they found themselves assailed with racial slurs like “slut” and “savage” while out on dates, the hostility only served to intensify their feelings for one another. Meanwhile, Seretse was threatened with the loss of his throne, since Bechuanaland was a protectorate of neighboring South Africa, a white supremacist nation. Nevertheless, he got down on one knee and proposed to Ruth and the two married just a year after they met.
Unfortunately, major impediments were subsequently placed between the exiled young monarch and his governing, and that struggle is the subject of A United Kingdom. Directed by Amma Asante (Belle), the film was shot on location in Botswana, which is what the country has called itself since gaining independence in 1966.
Because the movie telescopes tightly on Ruth and Seretse’s relationship, it’s success or failure is destined to turn on the performances of co-stars David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. The good news is that they’re very talented thespians capable of disappearing into their roles while generating the requisite chemistry to make their characters’ enduring affair convincing.
The film’s only flaw is that it feels a bit rushed, as if director Asante had a long checklist of touchstones from “Colour Bar” (the 432-page book it’s based on) she was determined to shoehorn into the encyclopedic biopic. Nonetheless, the final product is a praiseworthy production reminiscent of another tale of racial intolerance recently in theaters.
Let’s say, “Loving,” African style!
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sensuality, profanity and ethnic slurs
Running time: 111 minutes
Studio: Harbinger Pictures
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
To see a trailer for A United Kingdom, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?