By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The United Kingdom doesn’t come off so great in the cleverly titled A United Kingdom — about as well as the state of Virginia comes off in Loving.
In both films, an interracial couple deeply in love have to fight against assorted obstacles and prejudices to find a contented way to live as marrieds and parents.
A United Kingdom is three parts romantic biodrama to two parts history lesson.
David Oyelowo, doubling as a producer, stars as Prince Seretse Khama of what is now Botswana (and was formerly known as Bechuanaland), who falls for a British office worker from London played by Rosamund Pike.
This occurs while he is completing his education in England in the late-1940s and causes an international scandal when they marry.
He’s in line for the throne, but their interracial relationship – he’s black and she’s white – is disapproved of by both of their families, to say nothing about the British civil service and the African tribespeople and governments, including neighboring South Africa, the rulers of which find the concept of a biracial couple ruling a neighboring nation intolerable.
From all sides, they are being accused of flagrantly disregarding the “political climate.”
Her father disowns her, while the uncle who raised him pleads with him, for the good of their people, to end the relationship.
But they defy family, apartheid, and the British Empire and return from an imposed exile that keeps them apart for long stretches.
The mix of forbidden love, colonial rule, and political intrigue is smoothly – if a bit too politely — handled by British director Amma Asante (Belle, A Way of Life), whose portrait of love at first sight could have devoted a bit more time to the beginning of their romance.
It’s nonetheless sufficient for the film’s purpose with actors as skilled and appealing as Oyelowo, who was so fine as Martin Luther King in Selma, and Pike, first-rate as the title character in Gone Girl.
Both exude quiet dignity, and he is sensational delivering several rousing statesman-like speeches while she displays the subtle calibrations in her stranger-in-a-strange-land character arc.
The script by Guy Hibbert (based on the Susan Williams book, Colour Bar), who also wrote the gripping thriller, Eye in the Sky, addresses the power of love at first sight while telling a story about African independence. It’s sometimes on the simplistic side, sidestepping the nastiness and ugliness that we know was part of the fabric.
But it still registers as a story that needs to be told.
So we’ll fall for 3 stars out of 4 for A United Kingdom, a moving, politically charged period drama about the power of love coming up against the love of power.