I’m not sure why it’s taken me a few weeks to write about a film that struck me as a must see, so I’m writing this now. I hope that you don’t let this film pass you by. Not only is it a riveting story but it’s historical about a subject and time we know little about.
Directed by Amma Asante, Belle is a story about race, class and gender that is both important and timeless. The story has hints of Jane Austen, capturing the tale of a woman struggling to define herself in a culture tied up in traditional cultural and societal norms.
The film is based on an actual painting that once hung in Hampstead’s Kenwood House. In the picture, we saw a bi-racial girl with her white friend. The setting was the 18th century, well before any kind of racial progress occurred. The creators of the film took liberty and recreated her life, after doing careful research. Her name was Dido Elizabeth Belle. She was the illegitimate daughter of a Royal Navy captain, who took it upon himself after the death of her mother to ask his own family to care for her. She was taken under his family’s wing – Lord Mansfield, his wife and cousin. Her new “father” is Lord Chief Justice in the UK and handles many slavery cases, yet he keeps at her at a lower rank under his own roof. She is not allowed to dine with the family, nor is she considered for the same opportunities as her cousin because of one thing: skin color. She grows up hating the color of her skin and feels like an alien. It is one of her dad’s cases, the Zong ship case, which hinged upon the deliberate drowning of human “cargo,” which attracts her interest and propels her life in a new direction.
There is love and romance, but as much as I enjoyed that part of the film, I loved learning about Belle and watching her break out of her shell. The acting is also superb with performances by Emily Watson, Tom Wilkerson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sam Reid and Sarah Gadon. The costumes and cinematography are just breathtaking. Asante’s direction is so impressive, as is her effort to weave in a legal case to an already interesting plot to show how racism was so prevalent during this time period.
More than anything, this is a women’s story that needed to be told. Kudos to Asante for bringing it to the screen and into our minds.