Movies featuring interracial couples can be tricky. If done poorly, it would be over-manipulative and over-sentimentalized. Last year’s Loving works due to the subtle nature of its subject matter (Loving v. Virginia). The U.S. has another movie featuring an interracial couple from the U.K. Directed by Amma Asante (of 2014’s overlooked Belle, about a mixed-raced girl raised as an aristocrat in the 18th century after England abolished slavery), A United Kingdom brings an important part of history to life.
The movie opens up in London in 1947. Serest Khama (David Oyelowo) is an heir of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) who is studying in Oxford. One night, he meets the lovely officer clerk Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). She’s white. He’s black. After going out dancing, they begin to fall for one another and eventually get married (despite the dismay of Ruth’s parents).
Their marriage conflicts between the British and South African governments. The latter initialized the apartheid policy, meaning black people can’t live with white people. The interracial couple end up in Africa, so Sereste can talk upon the villagers about taking the throne from his uncle.
Born in London to Ghanaian parents, Asante and screenwriter Guy Hibbert (Eye in the Sky) do a terrific job balancing romance with the politics of the time. Love is equal no matter the color one’s skin is. With World War II ended two years ago, a white person marrying a black person was not only rare but shocking to the world. Bechuanaland and South Africa were ruled by the British government who have easy access to gold, uranium, and other minerals. Sereste and Ruth fight for their lives to gain independence from the British.
Oyelowo’s powerful performance as Sereste proves how great of an actor he can be from starring in minor roles (such as Lincoln) to playing Martin Luther King in Selma. It’s hard not to take your eyes off of him, especially when he delivers an uplifting speech about his love for his country, his people, and most importantly, his wife. But—this is the beginning of his troubles. British government official Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport) and district commissioner Rufus Lancaster (Tom Felton, Malfoy from Harry Potter) fear about losing their resources. If he gets exiled from his homeland, what would he do without his wife and child? After her brilliant turn in Gone Girl, Pike gives a subtle performance as Ruth, in which she receives compassion from the villagers. Her chemistry with Oyelowo is truly one-of-a-kind. They provide enough warm-hearted wit to carry through the rough times.
Despite the incredible true story feeling, at times, forced and ignoring the “show, don’t tell” technique, A United Kingdom is a gorgeously shot, tender love story and historical piece. Good stuff!