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The hubbub surrounding an African prince’s marriage to an Englishwoman, just as South Africa was enacting its apartheid laws to separate blacks and whites, becomes both a rousing love story and a triumphant call to justice in A United Kingdom. Based on Susan William’s book Colour Bar, it is a remarkable tale not only because it’s a true story, but one where a romance influenced the outcome of British and African history.
Overcoming some initial uncertainty and shallowness, this third feature by British director Amma Asante (Belle) finds its stride through the efforts of its very on-key actors David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), who make it a crowd-pleaser. It received a warm reception in Toronto, where Asante has premiered all three of her films, and will open the 60th London Film Festival early next month on an upbeat, politically correct note.
Oyelowo is dignified and charming enough as a suitor and then as a husband, but becomes truly electrifying the few times he gets passionate about his country and raises his voice in ringing tones. Clearly it’s not just the royal title he cares about, but improving living standards of the people.
Pike’s Ruth is just a plucky, average, post-war Englishwoman until she is forced to draw on reserves of courage and intelligence to face adversity. The scene of her driving herself to a local hospital with contractions and giving birth screaming shows the stuff she’s made of.
Very little time is spent describing Africa and its inhabitants, and Asante settles for generic scene-setting. The local people also are lightly etched, gathering quickly and mysteriously on momentous occasions or bursting into group song to express themselves. Still, Sam McCurdy’s cinematography captures some of the lonely beauty of Botswana’s dusty expanses and Patrick Doyle’s score hits some romantic highpoints.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Gala)
Production companies: Film United, Harbinger Pictures, Pathe, Perfect Weekend, Yoruba Saxon Productions
Cast: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Charlotte Hope, Laura Carmichael, Jack Lowden, Nicholas Lyndhurst
Director: Amma Asante
Screenwriter: Guy Hibbert, based on a book by Susan Williams
Producers: Brunson Green, Charlie Mason, Rick McCallum, Cameron McCracken, Justin Moore-Lewy, David Oyelowo
Executive producers: Guy Hibbert, Cameron McCracken
Director of photography: Sam McCurdy
Production designer: Simon Bowles
Editor: Jonathan Amos
Music: Patrick Doyle
Not rated, 111 minutes
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