A United Kingdom

I saw this film by director Amma Asante and screenwriter Guy Hibbert at the Bath Film Festival.  It is based on the book ‘Colour Bar’ by Susan Williams and tells the story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams who met in post war London and fell in love.  The film centres on their love for each other and the difficulties this caused, not only because he was black and she was white in a society that was shocked by any mixing between races but also because he was heir to the throne of Bechuanaland and whoever became his wife became Queen.

It is the love story that is most affecting and cinema always does a good job of showing the detail of the period.  London in the 40s looked a bit grim but Bechuanaland looked amazing in ways that I could not picture for myself when reading Susan Williams’s book.

David Oyelowo played Seretse Khama and Rosamund Pike played Ruth Williams and made me believe they would have moved heaven and earth to be together.  When everything was stacked against them, they continued in their quest to be married and take their place in Africa.  This would be enough of a challenge without the forces of the British Empire working against them.  As the film shows, the need to keep mineral rich South Africa sweet was the major reason the Labour government would not help the couple.  I was pleased to see a young Tony Benn and an older Fenner Brockway portrayed as principled politicians eager to help the cause.

The couple were pawns in a political game, not helped that Churchill did not keep his promise when he returned to government.  Yet, they won through and went on to lead Botswana to independence and Seretse Khama assumed the presidency by democratic election.  Jack Davenport had the difficult job of playing a stiff servant of Empire but did it well, just stopping short of villain status.  The despicable role of the Church of England in their story was missed and it the agony of their years apart, when Seretse returned to London to negotiate his way to the throne, were conflated into a few scenes.

However, this film was a triumph of storytelling of a period of our history that needs to be discussed rather than ignored.  It would be good to think that such a circumstance would be greeted differently now, in modern Britain.  Who knows!

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