October 6 2016
London Film Festival gala opening film is salient reminder of Britain’s difficult colonial history…
TWO themes really dominate “A United Kingdom” the film that formally opens the London Film Festival this evening.
One is race and empire, and the other is romantic love.
Amma Asante’s film, which will screen tonight at a glitzy red carpet premiere in London’s Leicester Square is a rich, evocative drama framed in a time quite different to our own.
Set in the 1950s, it tells the real story of how Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), an African prince of a country that later becomes Botswana, fell in love with a white woman, Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) in London and took her back to his home to become Queen.
Along the way, the couple face huge challenges – not just the blatant racism of the time from both sides of the racial divide, but also in the political manoeuvrings of those in charge of the British Empire and the newly emergent regime of apartheid in South Africa.
At one point in the film, British Prime Minister Clement Atlee decries the marriage on political grounds, saying that the South African government will simply not accept an African man in bed with a white woman and are intent on punishing Britain for allowing it to happen.
At today’s press conference, the symbolism was not lost on anyone. The film is directed by black Briton Amma Asante and stars Oyelowo who also has a producer credit. Oyelowo’s white wife Jessica, is also in the film, and plays one of the British Empire wives in Bechuanaland (a colonial protectorate to be technical), as it was known at the time.
When asked about the diversity behind the film, Oyelowo said: “It’s a reflection of the country we live in.”
He went onto make the point that because so few films are made from this perspective and with such a diversity, it was something people inevitably noticed and commented about.
Saying he was proud of being both British and African, he added and that “in time it would seem less and less special” on those grounds.
Director Asanta praised the role of Pathe, the producers for backing the whole project.
“They did ‘Suffragette‘ (last year’s opening London Film Festival gala opening) and they want to tell stories that are relevant to the world”.
Oyelowo said there was a “generational divide” in Botswana itself with older folks being fully aware of the story behind the birth of their nation and its mixed race heritage.
He said this was starkly reflected when he first arrived in the country at the airport and was met by his black female assistant. A mid-30s taxi driver thought she was Ruth – when of course his on-screen wife is white.
Pike, who plays Ruth urged people to see the film in the context of other romantic movies, and not in the same vein as “12 Years A Slave” or “Selma”.
“It’s a love story,” she emphasised, noting how the couple came through the challenges and deliver their country – not without a fight – to independence and freedom. And as a colonial story goes, it is one of the better ones in truth.
Asanta said the film showed two people’s love for each other and their love of the people and the country they were destined to serve.
“I saw everything through the prism of the couple’s love..it’s about romantic love, eternal love and a love for the people and the country,” she declared.
It was perhaps left to Jack Davenport, the former TV sensation of “This Life” and “Coupling” and a haughty colonial governor in this, to put the British involvement in that part of the world most accurately and succinctly.
“None of this is made up, it actually happened. It was how the Empire functioned and it was appalling,” said Davenport at London’s May Fair Hotel.
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‘A United Kingdom’ is scheduled to release in November.
A review will appear soon along with other screenings from the London Film Festival (October 5-16).
Look out for us on the Red Carpet tomorrow for Mirzya