A United Kingdom opened the 60th BFI London Film Festival, setting the tone for this year’s programme.
Reporter: Sasha Wickenden | Sub-Editor: Raynor Fry
This year the festival was all about celebrating diversity in the film industry. The festival’s director, Claire Stewart, emphasised the importance of bringing these stories forward during a time where the Black Lives Matter movement has heightened, in light of recent events across the world and on home soil. She also stated that this year’s programme would highlight the lack of opportunities being given to talented black actors, and things that could be done to bring positive change.
A United Kingdom is the story of two people’s forbidden love in the late 1940’s, a time when racism and discrimination was still a regular occurrence. The film was directed by BAFTA award-winning director and writer Amma Asante whose earlier work includes period drama Belle (2003) that has a similar story of overcoming hardship.
This is a film with a variety of talented British stars including Gone Girl (2014) star Rosamund Pike as office worker Ruth Williams, and Golden Globe nominated actor David Oyelowo as her lover Seretse Khama.
Oyelowo is known for his other serious roles such as the influential public speaker Martin Luther King Jr in Selma (2014). He is also starring in Queen of Katwe (2016), another film in the festival’s diverse programme. Jack Davenport and Tom Felton, who previously worked with Asante on Belle (2013), play Alistair Canning and Rufus Lancaster, employed by the British Government who determined to split the couple apart.
The movie follows the true story of a young (Oyelowo) man in 1947 from Bechuanaland (modern Botswana) studying law in London. He meets a young typist Ruth Williams (Pike) and they quickly fall for each other. After courting for a short while he admits that he must return to his home country, because he was a prince and needing to fulfil his duties to become king, now that he had completed his studies.
Not wanting to leave his love behind, he proposes to Ruth and they get married against the wishes of both their families. What is supposed to be the beginning of the best few years of their lives very quickly become some of the most challenging. The couple return to Seretse’s homeland to the shock and disappointment of his people at the prospect of having a white Queen. The couple now must fight for their right to love one another and rule together by winning the hearts of his people, and the discriminative laws of the British Government.
The film used great locations, starting in beautiful yet dull 1940’s London. The film transported you to this post war era by hairstyles, clothing, terraced houses and jazz music. However, as you are transformed to the scenic landscapes of South Africa, it is brighter and the music is happier.
As an audience member you can sense the tone changing to a more positive one as soon as they arrive. The film had a great cast who all gave great performances. You could see that Pike and Oyelowo, who previously worked together on Jack Reacher (2013) had great chemistry from start to finish. Jack Davenport and Tom Felton were perfect bad guys, having played similar characters in the Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter franchises. Their characters stopped at nothing to break the couple apart but in the end, they satisfyingly failed.
Overall this is powerful story that covers big topics of the time, such as interracial relationships, racism and political issues of the time such as the power of the British Commonwealth. It highlights how far we have come as a society in pushing out racism.
However, with current issues and the Black Lives Matter campaign becoming more prominent, it also shows how far we still have to go. It also has the potential to be more than a romance story, as it has the power to educate people on serious issues past and present.
The film is out across the UK from the 25th November 2016