Film Review: A United Kingdom (2016)

Given the current discourse around Churchill and the aspects of British history that are commonly taught, watching A United Kingdom couldn’t be more timely

“Would you care for a sherry?”

It’s no secret that the realities of British colonial history are too often and too easily brushed under the carpet. And so it’s no surprise that it is directors of colour who are dragging them into the spotlight, as Amma Asante does with A United Kingdom. You can’t imagine a history lesson that wouldn’t benefit from screening this for its students.

Written by Guy Hibbert from Susan Williams’ Colour Bar, it is based on the true-life story of a law student named Seretse and a underwriters’ clerk named Ruth who met at a dance and fell in love, the film intelligently explores and exposes post-war British imperialist attitudes as well as giving us an epic love story.

For Seretse is heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (later Botswana) and the year is 1947, so notions of interracial relationships become tangled with burgeoning ideas of African independence to the horror of a British elite desperately trying to cling to their perceived place in the world. 

Asante tells the story beautifully, aided by powerful, poised performances from David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, focusing our attention on the intense connection between the pair. But she never overplays it, the requisite reserve always in place and a keen eye on the wider political landscape always at play with the personal.

Jack Davenport and Tom Felton are both chillingly good at espousing the horribly paternalistic colonial attitudes at the British representatives abroad sure that they know the best. And though Churchill doesn’t appear on screen, he is raked over the coals for his empty promises, a timely reminder for many… Now more than ever, these are the parts of British history that need attention, take note Julian Fellowes.

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