Director: Amma Asante
Starring: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton
Run Time: 111 mins
‘A United Kingdom’ is the latest film by the talented Amma Asante after 2014’s ‘Belle’ and this film tells the true story of Seretse Khama, the Prince of Bechuanaland (now more commonly known as Botswana) who falls in love with a London office worker and marries her. He is also destined to be King over his land where his Uncle currently rules as regent and the film deals with their struggle to be recognised in their own country due to apartheid, the British Empire’s control of this land and the disapproval of Khama marrying a white British woman. Asante has assembled a strong cast with David Oyelowo as the lead who is always endlessly charismatic and authentic and Rosamund Pike as his wife who has been moving from strength to strength in the film industry particularly with her Oscar-nominated performance in David Fincher’s 2014 film, ‘Gone Girl’. ‘A United Kingdom’ has received strong reviews for its depiction of this true story and Asante seems to be further cementing herself as a key player in the rise of strong female directors.
‘A United Kingdom’ is a very easy film to like – it’s a great blend of being informative on this little-known subject matter which is quite shocking at times, funny at times and always profoundly humane. It’s got a collection of strong performances and it is very well-paced and never outstays its welcome. That said, it does race through its beginning before Oyelowo and Pike reach Bechuanaland and perhaps another ten minutes or so to explore their relationship would have been more realistic because they very quickly get married in the space of 15 minutes. It also doesn’t particularly push the envelope in terms of innovation which is why it doesn’t receive full marks but the film is a very easy watch and is endlessly engaging.
I had no prior knowledge of this portion of history and I suspect this will also be the same for many viewers that choose to watch this film but the history really is shocking at times and Asante manages to perfectly convey these emotions in her direction of the film. It is gruelling and uncomfortable to see the amount of limitations and the racist opinions put on Khama and his struggle for equality and the right to rule his own land that he has been promised.
‘A United Kingdom’ has a wealth of strong performances particularly both Oyelowo and Pike as the central couple. This is normal territory for Oyelowo who has played a pretty similar role as Martin Luther King, of which he was the only redeeming feature in Ava DuVernay’s atrocious, pretentious 2015 biopic ‘Selma‘. He is again, great in this and manages to portray a full humanity in Khama’s character and is a character that is well-developed and who we constantly empathise with. Pike is also great as the humble, kind-natured yet misunderstood wife of Khama. Jack Davenport is very good here as Alistair Canning, a fictional civil servant who is a very slimy character and wants what is best for the British Empire which does clash with the ideals of the inhabitants of the Bechuanaland and Tom Felton continues to improve his post-Harry Potter career with a thoughtful performance as Rufus Lancaster who is equally as slippery and slimy as Davenport. I just wish the film would have developed Pike’s family more so that we could get a viewpoint from both sides and get a chance to understand them as they are very one-dimensional.
Patrick Doyle’s score is very serviceable and compliments the film nicely and Sam McCurdy’s cinematography is equally thoughtful and allows the film to flow through very coherently without much of a chance to display his talents.
Overall, ‘A United Kingdom’ is an interesting watch for its interesting true story and its performances. It’s a very easy film to like as mentioned as it is well-paced, save for the beginning and has a lot of light moments of comic relief for the audience which really works and makes the film easy to digest. Whilst it is an excellent film, I just wish it would have been a little more innovative in its execution as it is a little workmanlike in execution. Asante can be proud of another great film and I hope she continues to develop into the promising director that she has already demonstrated she is.