Autumn 2014 Features series
Sunday, September 7, 2014 at 4:00pm
Sunday, September 7, 2014 at 7:00pm
Monday, September 8, 2014 at 7:00pm
Directed by Amma Asante
Screenplay by Misan Sagay
Starring Emily Watson, Matthew Goode, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Tom Wilkinson
Rated PG ·
Fans of English period drama are accustomed to the genre’s ornate settings, social graces, and sophisticated language. But less rarely glimpsed is the institution on which that refined life was founded: slavery. In Belle, director Amma Asante (A Way of Life) takes inspiration from a real-life story to bring the contradictions of eighteenth-century England to the screen in powerful and compellingly dramatic fashion.
Born to a white British admiral and a black Caribbean slave, the biracial Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, television’s Touch) is a disgrace upon her father’s aristocratic family, but even so, custom dictates that she be raised as a lady. The imposing Lord Mansfield (Academy Award nominee Tom Wilkinson, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Michael Clayton), Dido’s uncle and the family patriarch, takes charge of her tutelage, and instructs Dido on the codes and requirements of her station. But even as she becomes the very picture of a genteel young noblewoman, she is a pariah amongst her own people. Trapped in a rift within England’s ironclad social hierarchy, Dido is haunted by a confounding question: “How may I be too high in rank to dine with the servants, but too low to dine with my family?”
As well as chronicling Dido’s personal journey, director Asante deftly weaves in contrasting figures such as Dido’s cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon, A Dangerous Method), who has been raised in similar circumstances but is untouched by racial discrimination, and potent subplots—including a horrific slavetrading case over which Dido’s uncle must preside—that help place Dido’s experience within the complex matrix of eighteenth century British society. As lushly realized as any Jane Austen adaptation, Belle offers all the pleasures of period drama while offering new, thought-provoking insights into its hidden history.
“Beautifully cast, touchingly played and handsomely mounted, Belle is as close to perfect as any costumed romance has a right to be.” (Roger Moore, Movie Nation)
“Amma Asante’s Belle has every element that costume drama fans love, but it elevates a standard love story by adding larger historical implications and giving us a new perspective on the era.” (Kimber Myers, The Playlist)