Humanity sucks. There, I said it. It’s out there. As a species, we are the worst thing that could possibly happen to a planet outside of the selfie stick. And we’re the worst thing that can happen to each other as well, as we’ve seen countless times.
A United Kingdom is just one of the movies that explores how much of an ass we are to one another, by exploring the love story between an African heir and a British typist, and the hordes of rich, important people doing everything they could to destroy that relationship. So, definitely the feel good story of the summer then.
The film follows the true story of Seretse Khama, the heir in a long line of royal chieftains to rule the impoverished nation of Bechuanaland (modern day Botswana). While studying in London, Khama met Ruth Williams, the daughter of a salesman and a clerk. Despite the differences in status and the taboo nature of interracial relationships at the time, Seretse and Ruth bonded over a love of jazz music and eventually married. This marriage would enrage the tribal elders of Bechuanaland, the British government and, perhaps most pivotally, the government of South Africa that had recently introduced a new set of laws called apartheid and were none too pleased about the interracial rulers next door. The film follows the Khamas as they try to lead their country amid mounting pressures from all the internal and external forces that opposed them.
The main strength of this film comes through the acting, and in particular the acting of the two leads. David Oyelowo, for the 2nd time in as many months, has brought a real life character to life in a really engaging way in Seretse Khama. Unlike in Queen of Katwe, however, his character is the focal point, and Oyelowo is more than up for the challenge. Khama comes across as a tolerant, friendly and noble man who is unwilling to bow down to bigotry or anyone who seeks to use and control him and his people, and this is mostly down to Oyelowo’s subtle but powerful performance.
Alongside him, Rosamund Pike is outstanding as Khama’s controversial bride, Ruth. Pike is another actor that delivers understated and underappreciated performances on a regular basis, and this is another as she shows the strength and vulnerability of Ruth. The primary cast is rounded out by a couple of British aristocrats who appear throughout the film as a mouthpiece for the Government, including Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy himself) as Rufus Lancaster and Jack Davenport as Sir Alistair Canning.
You always know the Government is going to be a pain in the ass when Jack Davenport shows up.
The film also features some really strong emotional moments that do really work. And there are some beautiful shots of Bechuanaland once the film goes there (rather than focusing on London). If sweeping shots of giraffes and rhinoceros roaming the sub-Saharan plains and sunsets falling over the silhouette of acacia trees is your sort of thing, then there’s plenty of wonderful cinematography at times to be seen here.
The problem, however, with this film is that the story is stretched rather thin. My thoughts upon leaving this film was that it contained about enough story to fill about 3 quarters of a great movie. The film doesn’t know what to do with all the extra time its got after the main story is told, so (for example) it forces David Oyelowo and Tom Felton to have a conversation that they already had 2 scenes ago to be repeated with different wording. Which is a waste of time and talent and film really. The end result of this is that this is a movie that has plenty of scenes that are suitable for a toilet break.
If you ever wanted to try out a giant soda, this might be the movie for you
And the thing is, there were things they could have done. A very interesting subplot involving a mining company moving into the Bechuanaland mountains was running in the background and we got the minimum amount of information about that plot. It was glossed over, and by going into a little more depth it could have fixed the problems with this movie.
Still, it was a very good film and if you’re into British/Botswanan/Race history or want to see a sweet love story this Christmas, I could recommend this movie for you.
3.8/5 – It had its issues and it was nothing groundbreaking or new, but this was a fine movie.