Here we are again, the best time of the year where the salivating film fanatics swarm central London to get a gander at the greatest movies. Between La La Land and A Monster Calls, Free Fire and Bleed for This, as well as the sections filled with independent and foreign film festivals, there are enough of the biggest and best bunch of movies to devour.
Opening the whole festival is Amma Asante’s enriching and glorious historical drama, A United Kingdom. Seeing in the second year where a woman led movie opened up one of the world’s greatest film festivals and telling the tale of racial tensions, independence, and a triumphant love, A United Kingdom is a stirring affair.
Led by Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo, A United Kingdom revolves around Seretse Khama, King of Bechuanaland and Ruth Williams, the London office worker he married. The pair have to navigate fierce opposition, not just from their family and friends, but from the British and South African governments.
Like any grand relationship, A United Kingdom suffers from a lot of fumbling and navigation. Trying to find a foundation in which to perch the developing and, in the latter half, a strong and invigorating play. The sniffs of the usual historical romance wrap themselves around the initial opening and in turn there is a lot of plodding.
But stick with the pause because as the initial nervousness of the movie falls away, you are swept up in the swooning, stirring, and triumphant love/political tale. This is helped largely by the immutable chemistry and sheer ferociousness of talent on display here. Oyelowo and Pike are momentous actors who powerfully convey a relationship bound to be greater than the adversity they face. While Pike is pleasant and somewhat banal, Ruth Williams takes a while to develop into a rounded, emotive, and glorious heroine that she eventually becomes, Oyelowo yet again captivates and showcase a tour-de-force performance. He is able to harness a multitude of emotions from first love glee to a storming leader trying to fight back against the repression of his relationship and his people. In moments, he captures the smallest detail of unwavering passion and earnestness in a remarkable and overwhelming performance.
Don’t get what I said about Pike wrong though. The charming real life Ruth would be proud to have her indelible kindness and undeniable strength channelled through the graces and talents of Pike. And together? Well, you’ve never seen such a resilient beguiling endearing relationship on the screen that is addled with hilarity and life developed fondly. The acting pair imitate the courageousness of the real pair perfectly.
An amazing supporting cast including Jessica Oyelowo, Tom Felton, and Laura Carmichael play intricate parts greatly whilst Jack Davenports snivelling behind the times government antagonist adds depths to the political force against Ruth and Sesente.
Amma Asante paints Guy Hibbert’s script with historical authenticity and care. She harnesses and balances the core love story as well as the social politics of South Africa and the British Empire. Already adept at handling this in Belle, Asante embellishes this skill by layering different facets of love such as family, country pride, and, of course, the core couple. Capturing the bounty and character of both the UK and Botswana, Asantd’s efforts are grand and glorious.
Though tempered by the standard historical fare, with leading greats illuminating the screen, a skilled director behind the camera, and a story so impossibly wonderful that A United Kingdom soars.
A United Kingdom opens BFI London Film Festival tonight!