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United Kingdom, A


Stars: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael, Terry Pheto, Jessica Oyelowo, Arnold Oceng, Anton Lesser, Anastasia Hille, Jack Lowden, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Vusi Kunene, Theo Landey, Abena Ayivor, Charlotte Hope, Donald Molosi

Director: Amma Asante

A United Kingdom, we are informed, “is based on extraordinary true events”.

In 1947, law student Seretse Khama, the king of Botswana (then the British protectorate of Bechuanaland) and white London officer Ruth Williams met and fell in love in London. Their decision to marry caused an international uproar, and, more unfortunately, distressed their respective families.

It did not help, either, that the South African government had introduced apartheid and patently did not promote mixed marriages. And, appalled by the marriage, their government put commercial (Britain’s access to South African diamonds and uranium were considered to be trump cards) and political pressure on the United Kingdom

My apologies if this all reads more like a routine history lesson than a film review.

Unfortunately director Amma Asante’s movie essentially resembles the kind of inherently propagandist movies so often inflicted on pupils who were sentenced to be captive audiences during their schooldays.

(Believe me, I speak from having suffered all-too-frequent experience of such sad screenings).

And now with Political Correctness rife in 21st century storytelling it’s more than just a tad difficult to say just how much of Guy Hibbert’s screenplay (based on Susan Williams’ book “Colour Bar”) is driven by adherence to historical fact and how much by the need to drive a movie toward popularity and profit.

Not that the latter could have been a prime problem here since, being co-financed by the BBC, A United Kingdom has already been paid for by British television licence payers without their consent; indeed, they would be perfectly justified in waiting to see the film for free when it eventually ends up being screened in its natural medium - television.

Oyelowo and Pike deserve credit for delivering performances that are rather more than just passably impactful despite the by-numbers storyline. Predictable lines abound, like “Father will hate him on sight” (Pike being prescient over her dad’s reaction to their romance) and “You belong to the whites but they don’t want you either” aimed at Pike when she is shunned by the ruling Colonials and ends up suffering an isolated life in Bechuanaland while the British Government bans her husband from returning to his own country hardly add credibility...

The Colonial British are appropriately demeaned, with strong (if clichéd) performances by turns led by Davenport as a snide Colonial Office official while the local inhabitants of Bechuanaland/Botswana get the full tourist-pictorial treatment, while white residents are rightly spitefully mocked years after British colonialism finally ended.

Sam McCurdy’s cinematography of well-chosen and effectively used Botswana locations is a considerable asset as, too, are the key performances and (uniquely perhaps) appearances by then contemporary politicians Tony Benn (played by Jack Lowden) and Clement Attlee, who have catalytic roles.

Whether the story is “true” or not, years before A United Kingdom reached the screen Winston Churchill (who was involved, as was Attlee in the political proceedings against Khama as depicted here) neatly summed up the overall impact when he stated, “For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history myself”.

Now that’s surely the real business of Show Business!

Alan Frank

USA/UK/Czech Republic 2016. UK Distributor: Pathe . Colour.
110 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 27 Nov 2016