A United Kingdom tells the inspiring true story of Seretse Khama, the King of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana), and Ruth Williams, the London office worker he married in 1948 in the face of fierce opposition from their families and the British and South African governments. Seretse and Ruth defied family, Apartheid and empire – their love triumphed over every obstacle flung in their path and in so doing they transformed their nation and inspired the world.
David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike play the mixed-race power couple whose love challenged apartheid in this overly simplistic historical romance.
Sometimes it is just a matter of black and white. In real life, the story of the mixed-race marriage between Seretse Khama, prince of Bechuanaland (later to become first president of Botswana), and London office worker Ruth Williams was full of complication and nuance, though you wouldn’t know it from Amma Asante’s oversimplified “A United Kingdom,” which treats their love story like a Disney princess movie, reducing the drama to a series of polite disagreements between the couple and the cardboard officiates who opposed their union. Granted, it’s an important historical lesson — coincidentally arriving at nearly the same time as America-set “Loving” — but it’s hard enough to interest audiences in terrific African stories; a mediocre one hardly stands a chance.
To properly put a romance in jeopardy, one must first convince us that it exists, and while we witness the first meeting between Seretse (David Oyelowo) and Ruth (Rosamund Pike) — whose eyes meet across the room at a London Mission Society mixer, designed to convert the savages to Christianity — there’s little to suggest that what they share is special.
We can safely assume that Seretse is nothing like the men who’ve courted Ruth in the past. When she first sees Oyelowo’s character, the charismatic “Selma” star straddles a leather club chair like some kind of overconfident cowboy, emphatically debating politics with his peers. Ruth, on the other hand, is pleasant enough to look at, a porcelain beauty whose arched eyebrows seem permanently etched in an expression of waxy surprise, but she doesn’t offer much in the personality department.
At the end of “A United Kingdom,” a series of intertitles explain everything that Ruth accomplished while in Botswana. During the course of the film, however, her only real achievement is being strong enough to pursue a relationship that nearly everyone deemed unpopular. After a few bland dates, Seretse takes the opportunity to propose marriage (picturesquely staged with Big Ben in the background), which invites the sort of predictable scene in which Ruth’s conservative father (Nicholas Lyndhurst) threatens to disown her.
Same goes for Seretse’s traditional uncle Tshekedi (Vusi Kunene), who has been acting as regent while his nephew was away. Such confrontations are to be expected, though one doesn’t expect what happens next, as British diplomat Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport) pops by Ruth’s office to explain why the system won’t allow her to marry. His explanation boils down to a word she’s never heard before: “apartheid.”
A United Kingdom is a British biographical romantic drama film directed by Amma Asante and starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, co-stars in the 2012 film Jack Reacher. The screenplay is by Guy Hibbert, based on the book Colour Bar by Susan Williams. The film is based on the true-life romance between Sir Seretse Khama and his wife Ruth Williams Khama.
It is scheduled to be screened at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. A United Kingdom will be the opening film at the 60th London Film Festival. This will be the second year in a row that a British film directed by a woman has featured as the opening night gala screening.
A United Kingdom
Directed by: Amma Asante
Starring: Rosamund Pike, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Laura Carmichael, Jack Davenport, Charlotte Hope, Jessica Oyelowo
Screenplay by: Guy Hibbert
Production Design by: Simon Bowles
Cinematography by: Sam McCurdy
Film Editing by: Jonathan Amos, Jon Gregory
Costume Design by: Jenny Beavan, Anushia Nieradzik
Set Decoration by: Rebecca Alleway
Music by: Patrick Doyle
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Release Date: February 17, 2017
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