A United Kingdom is based on a true story – the story of Seretse Khama, prince of Bechualand (modern day Botswana), who while studying in London falls in love and marries Ruth Williams, a white woman in the late 1940s. The marriage causes political turmoil and friction between Seretse and his uncle, the king regent. The interracial marriage happens just as the regional hegemon, South Africa, is enforcing the apartheid policy. Defying the established order and the general acceptance of the segregation of black and white people will not be easy for the couple as Seretse tries to win the trust of his people and Ruth gets used to life in her new home.
Director Amma Asante decides once again to study another historical case of the relationship between white people and black people, both the sentimental bonds and the political consequences. Her last film, Belle (2013), was about a mixed race girl, who had been brought up by her father’s white aristocratic family, fighting against slavery.
Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom artfully manages to perfectly balance and blend both the love story between the married couple as well as the political context in which they find themselves. It does not fall too deep into the sentimentality of their hardship and presents an interesting retelling of this particular moment in the history of Botswana, which for many will be unknown. The marriage between Seretse and Ruth leads to her being disowned by her father and Seretse’s uncle deeply disapproves the match and tries to get the Bamangwato people to reject Seretse as their tribal leader. The film explores the ups and downs in the couple’s life in the midst of an Africa characterised by racial segregation and deeply under the control of the British empire.
I really enjoyed this film. The story is very moving, both the parts focusing on the relationship between Seretse and Ruth and the segments looking more into the context of apartheid South Africa. I have to admit the story was unknown to me and, as an international relations student, I relished the opportunity to discover a bit more about the history of Botswana and the political context in which the Khamas defied the established racial norms. A United Kingdom is at its core a tale of defiance. Seretse Khama, next in line to become tribal leader of the Bamangwato, is willing to fight for his right to lead his people but also to give it all up in the heartbeat for his wife.
It is no surprise that the stars of the film are dazzling. David Oyelowo is amazing. He potrays yet another historical figure, after playing Martin Luther King Jr in Selma (2014), and once again delivers. Throughout the film he delivers a series of inspiring speeches with such passion and emotion that he is totally believable as a man in love with a woman who is not accepted by the people he feels responsible for leading. On the other hand, Rosamund Pike plays a woman shunned by her family trying to find her place in a completely new environment while her husband is sent away back to England.
It’s four stars from me. Go and see it! It could possibly end up with a few nominations during awards season.