A United Kingdom
dir Amma Asante
scr Guy Hibbert
prd Brunson Green, Peter Heslop, Charlie Mason, Rick McCallum, Justin Moore-Lewy, David Oyelowo
with David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Terry Pheto, Vusi Kunene, Laura Carmichael, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Charlotte Hope, Jessica Oyelowo, Theo Landey, Jack Lowden
release UK 25.Nov.16
16/UK Pathe 1h51
A United Kingdom
Game of thrones: Pike and Oyelowo

davenport felton pheto
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
A United Kingdom This is a great true story with a huge present-day relevance, and it features robust, engaging performances from both David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. So it's a shame that the screenplay lets it down so badly. Not only are characters painted with broadly cartoonish strokes, but the structure drains any sense of momentum from the narrative. So if it's not hugely compelling, at least it's still a worthy biopic packed with important themes.

After studying in London for 20 years, Seretse Khama (Oyelowo) is ready to return to his home in Bechuanaland in 1947 and take his rightful place as king. His Uncle Tshekedi (Kunene) has been running the country as he has grown up, and is shocked to find out that Seretse has fallen in love with white Englishwoman Ruth (Pike). British government officials (Davenport and Felten) are even more annoyed, as the marriage flies in the face of their support for South Africa's new policy of Apartheid, which they are implementing their Bechuanaland protectorate.

What follows involves much diplomatic double-dealing, as the British lie and conspire to undermine Seretse's right to be ruler with his wife at his side. So they exile him to London and condescendingly manipulate the political situation in Africa. This means that the Brits become little more than moustache-twirling villains in the movie. More texture in their roles might have added political depth, but these are essentially sidelined as rather dull plot points.

Instead, the filmmakers focus on the compelling romance, which is beautifully played by Oyelowo and Pike with a strong spark of chemistry. Seretse and Ruth emerge as feisty characters who react in distinct ways, taking tenacious action and delivering their own rousing speeches. So it's easy to see why they have the support of the locals (and the film's audience). Kunene delivers a complex performance, and there's nice support from Pheto and Charmichael (as the leads' sisters), plus a strong, understated turn from Lyndhurst (as Ruth's father).

There's a lot to this story, but the script's obvious moralising and awkward structure remove momentum from both the couple's personal story and the nation's fight for self-rule. Adapting a true story into a movie can't be easy, especially a story with so many layers of interest and meaning. All of those elements are in here, so there's still an vitality that holds the interest. But the movie never quite manages to stoke the audience's political outrage or engage the viewer's heart.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 28.Sep.16

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... A United Kingdom Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall