A love that threatens a nation

A love that threatens a nation

Review: A United Kingdom

(PG) Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Jack Davenport

After World War II, the British Empire struggled to maintain many of its colonies and protectorates in Africa, due to their financial difficulties. Bechuanaland (modern-day Botswana) was under British rule, but had become one of the poorest countries in the Empire and the world. Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) was Bechuanaland’s crowned prince of this small nation. He  had been sent to England to study and prepare to rule this small nation on the border of South Africa. All was going well with the plans for his nation and his family, until the prince fell in love and secretly married an English woman, Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike)Due to Ruth being white and this being the era of South Africa’s introduction of apartheid, their marriage caused difficulties that had implications for his family, his nation and the British commonwealth. Such intense opposition to their union is a major test of the strength of their marital bond. 

A United Kingdom shares the story of the many challenges of their lives, which eventually have a bearing upon the development of the prosperous and modern Botswana. This controversy of the Khama marriage may not be historically familiar to most audiences, but it is a timeless story of love, marriage and how they can overcome all odds and potentially change the world. Such a story is within the wheel-house of director Amma Asante, who previously has taken on similar projects which address racial barriers in history (notably, biopic Belle). She has brought together a wealth of talent on A United Kingdom, to deliver a story that will be new to most viewers, but relevant to current world tensions. The challenges Asante must overcome are that lack of familiarity with the Khamas, and the chronological length of the actual events. Even with these obstacles, Asante conveys the chemistry of the young married couple and the passion that Prince Khama has for his country.

These elements rely upon the strengths of the lead actors, who prove their skills to convey the passion of the Khamas. Oyelowo and Pike are stunning as the love-struck couple. They bring steeliness to these real-life characters whose difficulties began before they were even married. But what really drives A United Kingdom, though, is the strong and venomous performance of Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) as the proper British rival who attempts to break up the young couple. These main performances are entertaining but they cannot prevent Guy Hibbert’s (Eye in the Sky) script from eventually letting the production down. The length of the whole ordeal covered by Hibbert causes our attention span to stretch beyond comfort and proves to be visually laborious.

A United Kingdom begins strongly as a journey into little-known history, but eventually comes to resemble a made-for-television BBC docu-drama.

What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

A United Kingdom does show that love and marriage may not always overcome all opposition, but that does not mean these two should not have gotten together. History would prove that their willingness to ride the tide against this opposition was rewarded, but what really should be celebrated about them is their undying love for one another. None of us are promised that opposition will not occur in life, but how can one know that they are in the right or wrong?

Passages on discerning and wisdom: Joshua 1:9, Proverbs 3:5-6, 2 Corinthians 12:9, 1 Peter 5:10

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger

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