March 1, 2017

A United Kingdom: Historical Drama Recounts Scandalous Interracial Romance

After the untimely death of his father, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) was crowned the King of Bechuanaland when he was only four-years-old. Therefore, his Uncle Tshekedi (Vusi Kunene) assumed the reins of power until Seretse completed his education.

While studying law in Great Britain, he fell in love with Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) who was a clerk at Lloyd’s of London. Their romance ignited an international firestorm of controversy because of their color, not their class, differences.

He was black and she was white, and this was 1946, when there was strict racial segregation. So, the couple’s scandalous liaison was met with resistance in England and in Africa.

Although they were the target of racial slurs like “slut” and “savage” while out on dates, the hostility served to intensify their feelings for one another. Additionally, Seretse was threatened with the loss of his throne, since Bechuanaland was a protectorate of neighboring South Africa, a white supremacist nation. Nevertheless, he proposed to Ruth and they were married a year after they had met.

Unfortunately, major impediments were placed between the exiled young monarch and the governing of his country, and that struggle is the subject of A United Kingdom. Directed by Amma Asante (Belle), the film was shot on location in Botswana, which is now the country’s name after it gained independence in 1966.

Because the movie focuses on Ruth and Seretse’s relationship, its success or failure depends on the performances of the co-stars David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. Fortunately, they’re both very talented actors who generate the chemistry that is necessary to make their characters’ relationship convincing.

The movie is based on the book Colour Bar. Unfortunately, the film’s only flaw is that it feels rushed, as if director Asante had a long list of items — taken from the 432-page book — that she wanted to include in the movie. Nonetheless, the final product is a praiseworthy production.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for sensuality, profanity, and ethnic slurs. Running time: 111 minutes. Studio: Harbinger Pictures. Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures.