Saturday, 14 January 2017

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Belle (Amma Asante, 2013)

Inspired by historical events, Belle tells the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the daughter of an Afro-Carribean slave and an English naval officer. Taken back to England, Belle ends up in the care of her great uncle, a nobleman who also happens to be the Lord Chief Justice of England (Tom Wilkinson).

When her uncle becomes involved in a court case which could decide the legal status of the slave trade, Belle becomes involved in the fight to abolish slavery and fight for her own destiny against a world which has pre-decided her status in society.

Belle is an interesting film, for a couple of reasons. The first is that, while the film is based around real characters, the plot is not. Rather than bog the film down in the legal system of the times, the filmmakers base the movie around Belle's relationships with her family, and her developing relationship with the idealistic John Davinier (Sam Reid), the son of a local vicar who catalyses Belle's involvement in the Zong court case.   

As I've pointed out, there are flaws -- the pre-fabricated nature of the screen story does clunk at points, and the love story, despite the movie's marketing, feels a little short-changed. Our central couple come together though a montage, never a good sign, and when juxtaposed against the real tragedy of the Zong slaves, it comes off as a little lightweight.

What saves the movie is the performance of Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She manages to push over the more contrived emotional turns the character goes through, although there are many points where her performance is doing a better job than the (occasionally) didactic dialogue. Mbatha-Raw is the reason to watch this movie, and it is a great showcase for her as a lead performer.

She's been terrific in supporting roles (she saves Larry Crowne from being maudlin nonsense), and it is great to see her finally get her due. 2014's Beyond the Lights is another great showcase you should check out. I'll be reviewing that sometime this year.

Overall, Belle is a solid flick, buoyed by its leading lady's central performance.

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