The pacing and the politics of ‘United Kingdom’ distract audiences from a fascinating narrative.
This film is centered around the actual story of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), the heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (Botswana) and the turmoil surrounding his birthright. Seretse is attending school in Britain during the 1940’s and meets Ruth Williams(Rosamund Pike), and it’s love at first sight. After a short courtship, he proposes, and they get married. However, their marriage offers a new set of problems for the lovebirds. Ruth and Seretse live in a world where racism (both institutional and societal) is rampant. His Uncle who lives in Bechuanaland refuses to recognize their marriage, and the British government has refused to allow their marriage to stand. Ruth’s family has shunned her, and it appears if Seretse brings back a queen who is white that it could lead to civil unrest in his country.
David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike deliver solid performances in their respective roles. His character is driven by a sense of morality that society will see that there is nothing wrong with their love. Mr. Khama had to go through a great deal of personal pain as he was forced into an exile by the ruling British government (due to his marriage) and spent years away from his wife and newborn daughter. The power in Oyelowo’s performance doesn’t stem from something he says to his people, but from what he doesn’t say. You can see the stress of not being of his family wearing on him. He’s able to hold it together until it reaches his breaking point and loses it in his apartment in Britain.
Rosamund Pike’s character seems to be caught between two worlds. She desperately wants her family to accept her life, but won’t just stand by and allow people to defame her or Seretse. Ruth Williams is a driven individual and doesn’t shy away from standing up for what’s right, even if it means denouncing the acts of a prominent historical figure.
Writing and Direction
Director Amma Asante places the focus on the turmoil surrounding Mr. Khama’s marriage, and that’s absolutely the right decision. Everything in the film’s staging is meant to emphasize the chaos going on in this young couple’s life. She’s working from a script that Guy Hibbert adapted from the 2006 non-fiction release Colour Bar, and that’s where this film begins to have its problems. The book tells the tale of Mr. Khama and the fight for his marriage, but does so from a legal perspective. Yes, there were many legal hoops they had to overcome in this story, but seeing many scenes in offices or British parliament is quite tedious. Had Mr. Hibbert choose to place the focus more so on the societal issues they had to overcome, it would have made for a better film.
This is not Mrs. Assante’s first time tackling such heavy source material. In 2004 she directed the film Belle, the actual story of the mixed race daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay. She uses her pieces as a vehicle to tackle bigger topics. In Belle, Dido Elizabeth Belle is entitled to certain things due to who her father is, but because the Admiral’s daughter is of mixed race, she’s shunned by others.
My biggest criticism of the film is it’s pacing. At times, the narrative seemed to be stuck in quicksand as we went through many scenes in offices and parliament. Then there were times where things felt a bit rushed. For example the courtship scenes at the beginning of the film. Instead of dedicating the appropriate amount of time to seeing just how Ruth and Seretse meet, it seemed we went from two people not knowing one another to Ruth telling her dad that she was going to be married in roughly 15 minutes. Why would you do that? This was some of the most compelling elements of the film.
‘United Kingdom’ is attempting to make the same type of statement that the film ‘Get Out’ did just a few week ago. However, this movie is mired in its politics and pacing issues and falls short of it’s intended goal. That’s not to say that both Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo don’t do a tremendous job in their respective roles. This is the type of movie that you should wait till you can either see it on-demand or pick it up at Redbox. The less you have invested in the film, the better.