"Belle" takes a genteel, yet fascinating, look at the life of young woman battling 18th-century racism and class divisions.
Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsey (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was born of an African mother and claimed by her English father (Matthew Goode), a Royal Navy admiral. In 1768, he puts Dido in the care of his childless uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson), who are also raising Dido’s half-cousin, Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon).
Opens Friday, May 23, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas; rated PG for thematic elements, some language and brief smoking images; 104 minutes.
Dido’s presence in the Mansfield mansion provokes gossip among the nobles — much of it centering on Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice, as he’s set to rule on a case that will change Britain’s slave trade.
Meanwhile, Dido and Elizabeth must navigate possible suitors, as they find Dido’s skin color less of an obstacle to marriage than Elizabeth’s lack of a dowry. Dido finds the men attracted to her less interesting than John Davinier (Sam Reid), a vicar’s son and outspoken abolitionist who clashes with Mansfield.
Director Amma Asante creates a sumptuous historical drama, braced by screenwriter Misan Sagay’s lucid explanations of class conventions and racial politics. The movie’s revelation, though, is Mbatha-Raw’s graceful and passionate performance that brings humanity to this history lesson.
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