Tropic Sprockets / A United Kingdom
By Ian Brockway
Director Amma Asante’s third film focuses on the true story of Prince Seretse Khama and the unrest that results in Bechuanaland, Africa in the 1940s when he marries Ruth Williams, a white woman. The film is sequential and earthy, highlighting the superb dramatic talents of both David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. Although a period piece, “A United Kingdom” is by no means dry, stale or for that matter tame, thanks to the verve of these actors.
Young Ruth Williams (Pike) is at a dance in London, sponsored by the London Missionary Society. She sees Prince Seretse and is instantly intrigued. The two are hooked and dance like spinning tops to jazz and swing music, the trombones of love. Seretse sends her several records which are grooved ebony valentines.
The lighting is flawless thoughout the film and Asante comments on Technicolor Hollywood, putting Oyelowo and Pike in the role of Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman with the couple flawlessly dressed, full of carefree locomotion, the energy of new romance.
There is a tense scene with some snarling bigots and Asante handles it deftly, showing Seretse clearly not wanting combat but having no choice. The prince knows he has to return to Bechuanaland, but he can’t bear being alone and neither can Ruth. While movingly explaining his dilemma, he proposes. Ruth consents.
Ruth confronts her father (Nicholas Lyndhurst) who is horrified by the engagement, as is Seretse’s family. Fortunately they are unshaken in their course for the most part. They marry and go to Bechuanaland.
There are some horrid British refusers of happiness in the film. Sir Alastair Canning (Jack Davenport) and Rufus Lancaster (Tom Felton) are the effete and patronizing ones who wrinkle and wince, and regard Seretse and Ruth as less than a couple.
The prince’s family is lost in bigotry and fear as well. Serete’s uncle (Vusi Kunene) is no less poisoned in belief than Ruth’s father. Ella Khama (Abena Ayivor), Seretse’s aunt gives a withering rebuke of Ruth’s imagined character. Both characters show that the poison of racism can corrode anyone or any system.
Together with a lightness of spirit and a selfless determination that the two actors and the director highlight to perfection, Seretse and Ruth refuse to be made into Romeo and Juliet by apartheid and the tribal kgotla, and declare their freedom on the top of a huge 1940s car. This is not sappy. Rather it is a celebratory moment, precisely because the actors are so loose and sincere in expression.
“A United Kingdom” shows truth in the spontaneity of love, a force that can make princes jitterbug on the moon but may also cause bigoted men and women to sneer and turn in disgust. Heedless of both goverments and atrophied mores gone to seed, love is ultimately Nature itself.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org