LFF 2016: A United Kingdom – A Love Story Caught in the Political Injustice of Its Time

a-united-kingdom-movieCredit: Pathé

A love story that is based on a true story always catches the interest of its audience and more than once we’re left with teary eyes.

While this is certainly true for A United Kingdom, the movie is so much more. Set in 1947 London, David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike portray real life couple Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, who found love in a time where it was impossible for them to be together.

They first bond over their mutual love for Jazz music and dance. And it was after their first date that Seretse admitted that he was the heir to the kingdom of Bechuanaland (todays Botswana) and that he soon had to return to his country. However, Ruth didn’t want to stop seeing him so they continued their courting until he proposed to her.

Not only are her parents against the union, but also Seretse’s uncle who is reigning the country for him until he becomes fit to be king. The government eventually turns on them as well, fearing that the people of South Africa, which is a bordering country of Botswana, will rebel against the British government, as Apartheid is very much underway in the country, as well as, in Botswana.

Seretse and Ruth get married anyway and from then on face many challenges.

Watch the trailer below to see for yourself why this movie is definitely worth a watch:

Yes, that’s how I felt after watching the trailer as well, which was why I was so super excited to finally be able to see it at the BFI London Film Festival.

The movie really doesn’t disappoint! David Oyelowo was brilliant as Seretse and whenever he was emotional, you could feel it with him. Just like, whenever he was angry at someone or he gave an emotional speech, you basically wanted to jump up and join in the chanting of his tribe. As a member of the audience, you can also see that this project was very important to Oyelowo himself, who has been involved in it since 2010.

Rosamund Pike completes the couple and after seeing her in Gone Girl it’s refreshing not to watch her as a psychopath. Her portrayal as Ruth Khama is very honest and you feel for her throughout the movie. She decides that she wants to live and love the man of her choosing, even with her parents disapproval. She leaves everything behind to start a new life in a country she’s never been in. At the press conference of the BFI London Film Festival, Pike explains what made her choose to play this role: she saw the pictures of the real life couple (which you can see at the end of the movie) without even having read the script. The fact that she was “moved to tears” just by looking at the pictures, is something you can see in her portrayal of Ruth as well.

whatsapp-image-2016-10-05-at-14-01-03Credit: Verena Cote

Obviously, we can’t forget about the other actors.

Laura Carmichael, who most people know as Edith Crawley from Downton Abbey, joins the cast as Ruth’s sister Muriel. She’s very supportive of her sister and wants what’s best for her, while at the same time, she’s nervous about her own relationship and thus, sticks to the status quo. Though, Carmichael is not in every scene, the way she brings Muriel to life is stuck in your head throughout the rest of the movie.

Tom Felton plays Rufus Lancaster, a district commissioner to Bechuanaland. It took me a moment to recognize him on the screen as he has darker hair in the movie. His character is one of the bad ones, but you can’t really hate him. You can sense the struggle of doing what his superiors want him to do and of doing what is the right thing to do. At the press conference, Felton explains how he doesn’t see these individuals as the villains but as byproducts of what the system entails at the time. And that it is fear that makes them do the things they’re doing, because they’re scared that everything their ancestors worked for will fall. These themes are also present in the characters of Alistair and Lilly Canning.

whatsapp-image-2016-10-05-at-14-01-25Credit: Verena Cote

Jack Davenport portrays the antagonist Alistair Canning. As Davenport said himself at the press conference, his character and Jessica Oyelowo’s (who plays his wife) are at times unsure about the changes that are happening at the time, just like Felton explained before.

While Jessica Oyelowo believes it to be a challenge to tackle and portray somebody whose beliefs are so different than her own. It is why you have to put yourself in the character’s shoes to be able to see what it means to the character when their world and beliefs are threatened by that love story.

Terry Pheto wasn’t at the press conference, however, her character Naledi Khama, Seretse’s sister, also plays an important part in the story. At first she totally disagrees with her brother’s choice but over the time she learns to accept Ruth as her new sister. It is the change in her character that makes her so important. In one scene you can literally see Naledi struggle about what to do when everyone is watching her. Pheto displays that struggle in such a perfect way that it is easy to forget how mean her character was.

It’s a remarkable story that needs to be told, especially for the Botswana people. David Oyelowo pointed out at the press conference: the younger generation of the country didn’t even know who Seretse and Ruth were and what an impact they had on their country’s history.

All these different and talented actors, as well as, the director Amma Asante contribute to the movie to make it great.  It’s a must see!

A United Kingdom opened the BFI London Film Festival on October 5 and it will be screened for general public on Thursday October 6 and Tuesday October 11. For more information please visit the official BFI website.

Anna Hattingen