A United Kingdom Review
Love is a very tender thing, yes I could write a thousand schmoozy quotes about the subject. I could write thousands and thousands of cliche sentences pertaining to the subject as well. The thing is, its tough to really discuss the subject of love and what we do in the name of it just watching movies or listening to music. You have to kind of experience it on your own. I am happy to admit that I have found true love. In April, I will finally wed my true love and I am graciously awaiting the opportunity.
"A United Kingdom" tells the true story of Seretse Khama, a prince and the next to be king of Bechuanaland (modern day Botswana). One day in England, he meets Ruth Williams at a party and they slowly begin to fall in love. This being the late 1940's, there was racism and prejudice seemingly everywhere. Ruth's family didn't approve of their relationship, and seemingly the entire Bechuanaland government didn't approve of the relationship either. But Seretse and Ruth truly loved each other, so they determined to make this work. They got married, without receiving the proper blessings. Ruth soon found out that Bechuanaland is suffering from aparteid, which is sweeping much of southern Africa. Which meant that Ruth was leaving her country in order to live separated from her new husband. But they were able to work past it. Khama nearly looses his king status, but the people back him. Bechuanaland being a British commonwealth, he faces strife from them as well. He's even exiled from his home while Ruth is pregnant with their first child. But they persevere, choosing love at every turn, and eventually they turn Botswana into an independent, democratic country.
David Oyewolo plays Seretse Khama and Rosamund Pike plays Ruth Williams. As the film begins, we see how the two people are slowly but surely drawn together. Its not something silly or cliched or random. Its not some punchline of a joke in the film. They slowly just begin to notice each other when their both out, just as we are when we meet someone we like for the first time. There are those first moments of attraction, and we drawn to those we like. In this particular scene, Ruth is drawn to Seretse talking to people, and it plays out in a very natural, authentic way. This doesn't feel like plastic, "movie star" love like you would find in "Twilight." This feels natural.
I do think they push through the relationship building between Seretse and Ruth, and that I did find a little disappointing. How they fall in love is summed up in one, quick montage. Which was a bit of a bummer. I understand though, there was a lot of information given in this movie. We move from their relationship, to their hardships from racism, to moving to Africa, to watching Seretse becoming a king, to getting banned for five years, then onto being banned for a lifetime, to turning his country into an independent state. There is enough material here for a nine or ten part mini series on HBO. While I would have liked more emphasis on individual parts of this story, the film does a good job of making certain moments of history shine. I wouldn't call this a glossary version of their relationship, or a Wikipedia page version. I think it comes close at times, but never tips into something negative.
What makes the film work is the impeccable acting done by both Oyelowo and Pike. These are both actors who have been involved in awards circuits before. They are beyond talented as actors. I knew they'd run with the roles, but what I didn't quite expect was that they were going to fly. I tend to love romance movies when the characters feel like human beings, not fake characters from a screenplay. I like romance movies with smart flirting, natural birth of a relationship and authenticity throughout the film. I would argue that "A United Kingdom" features all of those things. Oyelowo and Pike make two believable leads here, and it makes all the difference compared to other romance movies.
The acting in general is good across the board. Tom Felton shows up as an English government supervisor who oversees African affairs, he works for Jack Davenport's character, who is continually a thorn in the Khama family's side all movie long. We have seen both Tom Felton and Jack Davenport play mustache-twirling villains before. But the difference here is that these aren't cartoon bad guys. They portray a general threat to the Khama family and legacy, and they both do good work. One of the film's shining highlights however, comes from Vusi Kunene who plays Seretse's Uncle. Seretse was raised by his Uncle has his parents died when he was very young, and since his Uncle never had children of his own, he raised Seretse to be king himself. Their relationship is strained when Seretse brings Ruth home for the fourth time. The work by Kunene is continuously effective all movie long. Moment by moment, he takes command of the screen, bouncing off Oyelowo in powerful ways. I've never heard of this guy before, but he's on my radar now.
"A United Kingdom" is not just a romance movie. Its a movie of how love really does conquer all. About how when people come together under a strong bond, they can overcome any obstacle. Its a film about how when you marry someone, you support them, you create a partnership. Its also a movie that says that, no matter what, at the end of the day, family is family. Nothing can't be overcome when family comes together. The movie discusses these questions in an incredibly eloquent manner. Even though some parts are uneven, this is a momentous occasion, and the movie equals a satisfying whole.
"A United Kingdom" will be in theaters in Chicago this Friday.
FINAL GRADE: B+