Saturday, May 17, 2014

Belle: Movie Review

Beautiful portraiture of equality and a woman desperate to find her place in life.

“Belle” is the story of an illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral raised by her aristocratic High Court great uncle in England in the late 1700s. Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) has a curious, but heart-warming place in society and in history, and the film tells her story beautifully. Her story isn’t entirely known, but the film fills in the missing times between the factual touch-points with a mix between the expectations for the time and what the audience would want to see. 2013

Directed by: Amma Asante

Screenplay by: Misan Sagay

Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sam Reid, Tom Wilkinson and Sarah Gadon

Dido was able to influence the course of history because her father chose to accept her and placed her in the care of his wealthy uncle. She was raised alongside her second cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon), an orphaned heiress. Dido was loved and in private was afforded the same privileges as Elizabeth, but in society she was still black and the daughter of a slave and was not always seen as a member of the family. Dido struggled with her paradoxical role as not quite a servant and not quite a family member. Some of the more subtle details like Elizabeth wearing a double-stranded pearl necklace but Dido just a single-stranded one conveyed the slight differences between them well.

The film starts moving with two paradoxical stories. The first one when the family announces it’s time for Elizabeth to come out to society to meet her future husband, but Dido will not. The second features a case of slavery that has come before Dido’s great uncle the Lord Chief Justice, where previously he has ruled in favor of slavery.

My favourite part of the film, unfortunately featuring an inaccurate moment of history, has Dido’s father giving her a wealthy inheritance upon his death just as she was told that she was not allowed to come out to society. Dido sees this as abandonment or confirmation that she may live in a grand estate but not enjoy any freedoms of life. Eventually Dido sees it the way the audience does, that she has been given both freedom as a black-skinned human and as a woman.

Dido is actually better off than others born into society, such as Elizabeth. While Elizabeth has no choice but to marry a man of means whether or not her loves her and completely regardless if she loves him, Dido uses her newfound freedom and confidence to research her uncle’s case and form a partnership with an educated white man who seeks the same sort of freedoms as she does.

“Belle” is an alluring film recounting the history of the beginning of the abolition of slavery as well as a proper romance for the times. It’s recommended for viewers of Jane Austen-styled romances who want more historical substance to their films. It’s a story of equality and of a woman desperate to find her place in life.
Best of 2014

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Anna Karenina (2012) - A beautiful production that transforms Anna Karenina into a modern woman.