A United Kingdom (2016)

  • Time: 111 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | Romance
  • Director: Amma Asante
  • Cast: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Tom Felton


Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana causes an international stir when he marries a white woman from London in the late 1940s.

2 reviews

  • At the beginning of A United Kingdom, set in post-WWII London, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) is being recalled by his uncle (Vusi Kenene) back to his homeland of Bechuanaland Protectorate (later known as Botswana) to assume his rule as king of his kingdom. He has spent the last five years of his life studying law in London in preparation of this time – five years that, as his uncle reminds him, will help him advance his country and his people, who have been part of the British Empire since the 1880s.

    His destiny and birthright are jeopardised by his instant and deep attraction to Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), with whom he locks eyes across the room at a London Mission Society mixer. It’s not too long before he confesses his identity and his imminent departure, and it’s not very much longer before he gets down on one knee and proposes, telling her that he will never achieve anything worthwhile in his country if he leaves his heart in London. Despite the troubles they are sure to have because they are a mixed race couple, she immediately accepts.

    Predictably, her conservative father is displeased, refusing to see her until she breaks ties with Seretse. Seretse’s uncle is just as incensed, reminding him of his duty to his people. More worryingly, their relationship has caught the ire of both the British and African governments, who regard the couple’s marriage as a flagrant disregard for the political climate – namely, the fact that the policy of apartheid has recently been established in order to keep peace amongst the various countries within Africa.

    Based on the book Colour Bar by Susan Williams, A United Kingdom is a compelling portrait of a real-life couple whose romance helped influence the outcome of their individual countries’ histories as well as two people whose belief in their love made stronger as both a couple and as individuals. Director Amma Asante, whose previous work Belle also deftly examined sexism, racism and colonialism, once again demonstrates her skill with mixing the personal with the political, ably laying out the complicated bureaucratic maneuverings without losing sight of the people at the heart of the furore.

    Asante’s well-tempered handling also avoids any hoary sentimentality or emotional manipulations. Its moments, whether rousing or heartbreaking, are well-earned. The luminous Pike and magnetic Oyelowo both turn in superb performances. The former conveys Ruth’s resilience and intelligence whilst the latter displays reserves of vulnerability and dignity.

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  • In To Africa.

    Rating: 10*

    I managed to miss this film when it was first shown at the end of 2016. And what a shame as it would have UNDOUBTEDLY made my “Films of the Year” list.

    Directed by Amma Asante (“Belle”) this is the true tale of a real-life fairy story, featuring a handsome prince and his love, who can never be his princess thanks to the Machievellian schemings of court-do-gooders and bureaucrats.

    The prince in this case is Seretse Kham (David Oyelowo, “Selma“) , heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), who meets and falls in love with a lowly white Lloyd’s of London clerk Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl“, “The World’s End“). The plot has many parallels with that of another film from earlier this year: “Loving” with Ruth Negga and Joel Egerton. As an inter-racial couple in 1947 this is taboo enough, but the fact that Kham is soon to be king in a country bordering the apartheid tinderkeg that is South Africa blows the affair up to be a diplomatic crisis.

    Defying the officials he marries his true love, driving a wedge between both his own uncle (Vusi Kunene ) and sister (Terry Pheto) and making Ruth an outcast in both countries. As things turn from bad to worse, can true love conquer all their adversities?

    Just everything about this film delights. Oyelowo and Pike – always a safe pair of hands – add real emotional depth to their roles. Their relationship feels natural and loving without either of them trying too hard. The estrangement of Ruth from her parents (particularly her father played by Nicholas Lyndhurst) is truly touching.

    Another star turn is Harry Potter alumni Tom Felton, playing Rufus Lancaster – a weaselly and very unpleasant local official. I have a prediction…. that in 30 year’s time, the young Potter actor that will be the ‘Ian McKellen of his day’ (that is, a world recognized great actor… not necessarily gay!) will be Felton.

    Sam McCurdy (“The Descent”) delivers cinematography of Africa that is vibrant (to be fair, for anyone lucky enough to visit Africa will know, cameras just love the place) and the John Barry-esque music by Patrick Doyle (“Murder on the Orient Express“) is pitch perfect for the mood.

    A beautifully crafted film that older viewers will just love.

    (For more One Mann’s Movies reviews, visit bob-the-movie-man.com or One Mann’s Movies on Facebook).

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