As a big fan of true story films, I was very interested to see ‘A United Kingdom’ because I had never heard of this particular story. Starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, it recounts the incredible lives of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, two people from very different backgrounds and more crucially: with differing skin colour.
In 1947, while studying in London, Seretse met Ruth and they began dating. What Ruth didn’t know was that Seretse was the heir to the throne in Bechuanaland (present day Botswana). Nevertheless, against the wishes of Britain and South Africa, the pair married.
The film’s main focus is the massive struggle that followed. Seretse’s uncle did everything he could to stop him becoming leader, and Ruth was not accepted by the people of Bechuanaland.
As a result, the start of the film comes across as quite rushed but that wasn’t a problem for me because I would far rather it focused on the couple’s struggle than watch them go on loads of dates. Also, it was quite a fast process in real life because they only dated for a year before tying the knot so it’s pretty accurate as well.
Without a doubt the standout performance comes from David Oyelowo, who delivers the passion and emotion of the character superbly. He makes it all feel incredibly genuine, and as a result every setback he endures hits you twice as hard.
Rosamund Pike on the other hand is quite “meh”. I mean, she’s fine and she definitely isn’t terrible but there is no sign of the actress that starred in ‘Gone Girl’. The difference in quality between herself and her co-star is quite jarring, especially in some of the more intimate scenes. This unfortunately has a pretty devastating effect on the pair’s chemistry.
A couple of the cast surprised me as they appeared on the screen as I had no idea who was going to be in it. Firstly, Nicholas Lyndhurst (Only Fools and Horses) showed up as Ruth’s disapproving dad. Then, Draco Malfoy joined the party! Tom Felton plays Rufus Lancaster, another British snob who works with Jack Davenport’s Sir Alistair Canning to try and protect Britain’s interests.
Jack Davenport delivered a fine performance as Canning, he nailed the stiff upper lip stereotype. One of the most interesting parts of the film was watching how Seretse’s exile from Bechuanaland influenced the general election in Britain. The scenes in the House of Commons were impressively shot and felt very authentic so credit to director Amma Asante for capturing the tension so well and bringing 1940s London to life.
The score, composed by Scotsman Patrick Doyle, added plenty of feeling and I thought that cinematographer Sam McCurdy crafted some magnificent shots. The sun-baked African plains looked gorgeous, and the contrast between the scenes set in London and Bechuanaland was vivid and powerful.
Something I haven’t even mentioned yet is that the whole film is actually adapted from Susan Williams’ book, ‘Colour Bar’. I probably won’t read it but I am not totally against the idea having seen the film. I’m sure it’s a worthwhile read.
At 1 hour and 51 minutes, it’s a perfectly reasonable length and I didn’t once check my phone for a time update because I was engaged throughout. It doesn’t feel like a boring history lesson, it’s a story worth telling and it translates very well to the big screen and I was rooting for the characters throughout.
Rating – 7/10