By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Movies and stories about slavery and racism really sting my heart, especially those that depict violence and atrocities against people because of racial prejudice. Based on a true story, Belle tells the story of a young mixed-race British lady raised by her late father’s wealthy family, but gets treated differently because of the color of her skin. This romantic drama features solid performances by the cast, but is a bit formulaic in its presentation and plot. It doesn’t exactly help that certain scenes play out a bit melodramatically and somewhat predictably. Regardless, though, Belle, because of its subject matter and the performances of most of the cast, is an intriguing film worth viewing.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of Captain Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode). Lindsay brings Dido to the home of his uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) to be cared for after her mother’s death. Dido is raised along with her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon) and lives a much better life than of people of color who are impoverished or owned as slaves. When her uncle, Lord Mansfield, a chief justice in the court, must preside over a case involving murdered slaves, Dido becomes more socially aware of the shocking treatment of black slaves. She not only becomes more involved in the case, but also falls in love with lawyer John Davinier (Sam Reid), an abolitionist.
Written by Misan Sagay and directed by Amma Asante, Belle offers an interesting glimpse of race relations and slavery in aristocratic England during the late 1700s. The romantic angle of the story does get a bit sappy at times, but Mbatha-Raw’s charisma and lovely screen presence makes it work. Her co-star Sam Reid overacts at times, especially when trying to exude the passion of his character, but Mbatha-Raw’s solid work salvages their scenes together. The writing involving slavery and the unfair treatment of people of color works mostly, but sometimes gets preachy and heavy-handed.
Tom Wilkinson delivers a strong and refined performance as Lord Mansfield. Emily Watson also performs elegantly, but doesn’t have much to do in the film. Tom Felton gets typecast as the smarmy and vile suitor to Lady Elizabeth, James Ashford. He gets typecast for a good reason. The man is superb at portraying sneering smug villains. As my guest to screening pointed out, he’s got the right angular facial features for villainous roles. In addition to my praises above, I must add that Gugu Mbatha-Raw performs exquisitely as the title character. According to her IMDB.com profile, she has worked quite a bit in television and film, but I have only seen a few of her performances. I would love to go back and see some of her past work and look forward to seeing her in more films in the future.
This is another movie that would make a decent alternative to the usual summer blockbusters that dominate theaters right now. If mutant drama/action doesn’t hold any interest, then perhaps this costumed period piece will satisfy. I’m guessing the lines won’t be quite so insane either. I wouldn’t wait too long though, if wanting to see the film theatrically. I’m guessing this one won’t last too long at the cinema.