Complete A-Z list

Belle (DQ)


Stars: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon, Tom Felton, Sam Reid, James Norton, Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton, Matthew Goode, Lauren Julien-Box

Director: Amma Asante

Here's a little-known and interesting piece of 18th-century English history which, if rather stately in the telling and free with the facts, could justifiably have been called Pride and Prejudice if Jane Austen hadn't nicked the title first.

Heir to a fortune, country gent John Lindsay (Goode, in a brief but moving cameo), a naval officer, has a child by a black woman and, entrusting the mixed-race girl to his uncle and aunt (Wilkinson, Watson), is later killed at sea. Great-uncle happens to be the Lord Chief Justice of the land so, however reluctant he and his wife might have been to take the girl in, Dido Belle (Mbatha-Raw) wants for nothing, playing the piano like a maestro, impeccable in manners, but denied a place at the family table when guests like Lady Ashford (Richardson) and her snooty sons (Norton, Felton) come to dinner.

For all her colour, Dido, who is now an heiress, attracts the attentions of the aristocracy, as does her flightier half-cousin Bett (a difficult role for Gadon), who also lives with the family.

Although feeling that she doesn't fit in anywhere, Dido is drawn to an embryo lawyer (Reid), who's at loggerheads with Wilkinson over a case (in which slaves were thrown overboard en route to England) that could change British legal history.

A well-dressed piece that takes its time too much in places, the film owes much to the carefully-calculated portrayal of Mbatha-Raw and to one of Wilkinson's best performances of recent years, which both help bring it to a resounding climax. Perhaps better-suited to a two-part presentation on Sunday evening TV, this intriguing film faces an uncertain future in cinemas.

David Quinlan

USA 2014. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox (Fox Searchlight). Technicolor.
104 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 08 Jun 2014