Review / ‘A United Kingdom’ (PG) *** and a half

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WRITER Guy Hibbert would have had little difficulty tracking down the political elements of this fascinating and compelling account of the love affair between Seretse Khama, son of the paramount chief of Bechuanaland’s Bamangwato people, and Ruth Williams, a clerk in a London insurance firm. 

The love story of Ruth and Seretse in ‘A United Kingdom’.

Their 1948 marriage in a registry office (the Bishop of London would not permit a church wedding unless the Government agreed) became the preface to media coverage of political and racial bias against them. Amma Asante’s engaging and very likeable film uses narrative building material alongside an affectionate account of the couple’s acceptance by the Bamangwato people.

The Attlee government and the Colonial Office had conspired to keep secret the report of an enquiry it commissioned into Seretse’s fitness to become head of state. The latter part of the film hangs from that transgression. Knowing how it turned out doesn’t diminish its dramatic impact.

David Eyelowo makes a powerful impression as Seretse and Rosamund Pike is more than beautiful as Ruth. A cast of supporting African characters is likeable and credible in dispositions ranging from addressing public gatherings to women embracing Ruth’s participation in daily life and domesticity. Jack Davenport is a paragon of bureaucratic rectitude as Canning of the Colonial Office.

How much of the film is not derived from media and government records doesn’t really matter to its ability to engage interest and the willingness to believe its verity. Its themes – inter-racial marriage and government of what was then a poor country and now has the fourth-highest national income in Africa – intertwine comfortably to provide a portrait of democracy for the benefit of the governed with a convincing account of colonial control. I enjoyed its comfortable bits and those not quite so.

At Capitol 6, Palace Electric and Dendy.

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Dougal Macdonald
“CityNews” film reviewer

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