Love and politics intertwine in ‘A United Kingdom’

First Published      Last Updated Apr 06 2017 05:09 pm

Love conquers all — including racial tension and British colonialism — in "A United Kingdom," a smartly realized account of the true story of an African prince and his English bride.

It's 1947 in London, and Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) is a handsome 26-year-old college student from Bechwanaland, a British protectorate bordering South Africa (and now known as Botswana). Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) is a clerk who is dragged to a party by her sister, Muriel (Laura Carmichael). Seretse and Ruth hit it off immediately, talking about their shared love of jazz, and end up dancing and talking into the night.

Seretse warns Ruth early that a long-term relationship will be difficult, because he is heir to the throne of the Bamangwato tribe, the predominant native population of Bechwanaland, and will soon return home to become king. Still, they continue a courtship, until Seretse asks Ruth to marry him, and she accepts.

The marriage is met with opposition on several fronts. These include Ruth's bigoted father (Nicholas Lyndhurst), Seretse's uncle Tshekedi (Vusi Kunene), who is also the tribe's regent, and the British government — which fears a rift with South Africa, which has recently instituted the apartheid laws that codified segregation of black from white for nearly half a century.

The Brits — embodied by the fictitious government official Sir Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport) and his local commissioner (Tom Felton) — throw up obstacles to Seretse's return to Bechwanaland, using the excuse of the rift between Seretse and his uncle to enforce British rule on the territory. The Brits, eager to assuage the South African government and maintain access to its gold and other resources, maneuver to have Seretse banished from his home country, separating him from Ruth and their baby daughter.

Director Amma Asante ("Belle") and screenwriter Guy Hibbert ("Eye in the Sky") have the difficult job of cutting through a mountain of bureaucratic intrigue to shape a compelling story. They find the thread in Seretse and Ruth's enduring love and their drive to be together even when politics and racism are trying to tear them apart.

Oyelowo, so memorable as Martin Luther King in "Selma," gives a powerful performance as the prince, tender as Ruth's paramour and dynamic as a rising ruler. Pike ("Gone Girl") particularly shines in scenes where Ruth overcomes resentment from the native women and works to embrace her new home's culture. Together, they make "A United Kingdom" a warm, welcoming story of love crossing all borders.





‘A United Kingdom’

A powerful true story of an African prince who took an English bride, in the face of personal and political opposition.

Where » Area theaters.

When » Opens Friday, March 3.

Rating » PG-13 for some language including racial epithets and a scene of sensuality.

Running time » 111 minutes.