‘The deep love between these two people helped topple an empire’ said Jack Davenport at the LFF press conference for A united Kingdom, the opening night gala from director Amma Asante. ‘The whole story is told through the prism of their love, even the dense politics,’ added Asante.
‘I don’t know why this film is put in the category of films such as Twelve Years a Slave,’ said Rosamund Pike, the female lead in the film. ‘It’s a love story. One of the leads just happens to be black.’
Race, diversity, a changing industry was as much a feature of the press conference as the film itself. Each person on the panel spoke eloquently about each issue, not least the black, female Asante and leading man David Oyewelo. The latter told of the difficulties of getting the film off the ground. Ultimately he said, the film is a history of the UK as much as it is of Africa and he hoped that, in time, a film with black leads or a female director Is not regarded as anything special. As for diversity in film, he said there are those who just do it and those who talk about it.
Amma Asante had the last word on the subject. We don’t want to remove the films with white male leads, she said, it’s about creating a space for others to also enjoy the privilege of film making.
It was an interesting press conference.
But what of the film?
It’s a solid, beautifully shot, uplifting film about the creation of modern Botswana. Oylewelo plays Seretse Khama, heir to an African kingdom. In London he meets and falls in love with an English rose, a feisty, determined young woman, Ruth. Against the wishes of both their respective families and the British government they marry and she accompanies him to his homeland. In time, despite everybody and the system being against their union, including neighbouring South Africa which has just implemented apartheid, the couple make it work, personally and politically.
The scenes in Africa are lush, if rather sanitised. London is shown in beautiful hues. The acting is top notch from the leads to the supporting cast which includes Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter) depressingly playing a middle aged government official. And even more depressingly, Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) from Only fools and Horses playing Rosamund Pike’s father!
However, the film is curiously unmoving. The central love story is unconvincing and at times too saccharine to care about. Most surprisingly there never seems to be that much at stake, despite there being a kingdom about to be lost. And despite the best intentions of the screenplay to show nice white people too, the film is overly politically correct. The black people are all proud and noble and only ever righteously indignant about things. White officials are mostly snake like schemers.
When we came out of the press screening, the general comments were along the lines of ‘ I liked that but it was a bit too Hollywood at times.’
With more depth, less romanticism of Africa, this could have been an amazing film. As it is, it’s just an enjoyable one.