Run time: 104mins
Director: Amma Asante
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson, Sam Reid, James Norton
Synopsis: Dido Belle is the illegitimate daughter of an English Naval Admiral and a black slave. She is sent to England to be raised by the navy man’s uncle, Lord Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice and she quickly realises that her ethnicity is problematic in upper class society. Though her cousin Elizabeth accepts her friendship immediately and the girls become inseparable, Lord and Lady Mansfield are tormented by the question of Dido’s social status. It leaves her in a somewhat lonely position, deemed ‘too good’ to dine with the servants and ‘not good enough’ to entertain visitors; but things change when she meets a dashing young lawyer who accepts her as she is and offers his hand in marriage. Can the couple’s love overcome the conventions and prejudices of the time? And can Lord Mansfield dare to deliver a ground-breaking verdict on two cases he is hearing, concerning the future of slavery and the slave trade in the British Empire?
As with The Girl with the Pearl Earring, a mysterious portrait has inspired a top class film. A painting in Scone Palace of black Dido Belle with her white cousin inspired screen writer Misan Sagay to explore the remarkable true story of Dido’s life in 18th century England in the household of the powerful Lord Mansfield. Belle is a thought-provoking exploration of liberty and restriction, class, race and gender, with the kind of period beauty and strong, intelligent central female character (played brilliantly by South African newcomer Gugu Mbatha-Raw) guaranteed to appeal to any Jane Austen or Merchant Ivory enthusiast. Top notch costume and production design is accompanied by sterling performances from Wilkinson, Watson and co, resulting in one of the best British films of the year to date. Check out also whether it acts as the career launcher of young British actor James Norton, coming as it does on top of his chilling villain in the hit TV drama serial Happy Valley.
Images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox