Director Amma Asante became the first black director to open the London Film Festival this year with her film, A United Kingdom.
A child actor, Asante grew up on the set of popular British TV series Grange Hill, and after taking a break from acting in her late teens made the move to screenwriting and directing. Her first two films, A Way of Life and Belle, were well received - she has numerous awards to prove it - and A United Kingdom is a solid addition to her growing body of work.
A United Kingdom
is an earnest and intimate romantic drama and biopic, which also plays out as a political drama. It's based on the love story of black African king Seretse Khama (Oyelowo) and British white woman Ruth Williams (Pike), who meet and fall in love in London in 1947. Against the wishes of their family and their respective governments they marry, and Khama returns home to Bechuanaland (later Botswana) with his new wife to take up his role as the leader of the Bamangwato people.
Khama's choice of wife upsets his uncle and regent, creates a rift in the royal family that has his people questioning if he is fit to rule. The British government, desperate to keep a budding apartheid South Africa on side, does its best to undermine the couple - going as far as to separate them for years at a time.
Politics and commerce come into play as colonising countries begin to mine Africa for its valuable minerals but at the heart of this story is a remarkable love story about a couple who believed they could do the right thing for their country regardless of skin colour.
It's a fascinating and complex story to cover in two hours, but screenwriter Guy Hibbert hits the plot points with efficiency and clarity. Asante treats the story with the seriousness it deserves, with rare splashes of humour, such as when Ruth visits a local shop and waves to spectators as if she's the Queen of England. A touch more humour would not go amiss.
There are a lot of wonderful things about A United Kingdom; strong performances, an uplifting story and stunning settings among them; but it just misses the epic impact it's striving for. To be fair, I'd like to think this is down to budgetary restraints rather than a reflection of the talent behind what is a handsome production.
Verdict: Handsome, enjoyable historical drama, but doesn't quite reach the epic height it sought.
Cast: Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Laura Carmichael
Director: Amma Asante
Running Time: 111 mins
Rating: M (Violence)