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Belle (2014) (I)

Director: Amma Asante

Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Sam Reid, Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson

Producer: Damian Jones, Jane Robertson

Screenplay: Misan Sagay

Synopsis: Belle is inspired by a true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy Captain, Admiral Sir John Lindsay. Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife ()Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the colour of her skin prevents her from the being part of the traditions of noble social standing. While her cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) chases suitors for marriage, Belle is left on the sidelines wondering if she will ever find love. After meeting an idealistic young vicar’s son hell bent on changing society, they both embark upon changing shaping Lord Mansfield role as Lord Chief Justice in ending slavery in England.

Inspired by a mixed race girl in 18th century England, Belle is a film about responsibility, family, importance of truth, love, slave trade and the importance of principals having, maintaining and defending them. Belle at the start of the film is a young child, in a spinach ship carrying slaves, with no mother. She is recused by biological white father, Captain Sir John Lindsey, who promptly brings her to his uncle’s home, Lord chief Justice Mansfield, to be raised by him and his wife as an equal in society. As she grows up with her cousin Elizabeth as her only companion,  secluded from the live outside the mansion, she is treated as equal, almost, as she asks in the film, “how may I be too high in rank to dine with the servants but too low to dine with my family?”

By the time she is a young woman and eligible for marriage she is suddenly thrust into the reality of the colour of her skin and the draw back this affords her, turning to her family to have a sense of belonging, she’s met however with the actuality of a cultural unease. After meeting John Davinier, a young vicar’s son and an aspiring law professional, she’s suddenly acquainted with the social standing regarding people of dark skin tone, something the her great uncle the chief Judge is intent on shielding her from. Her knowledge inspires her to aid John Dainver’s quest, a case which could end slavery, her assistance is paramount to the result which could go either way.

The film is shot with a magnifying focal point on Belle and her unique social conundrum. Amma Asante, gave this independent movie a feel of opulence expected in a typical hollywood big budget film, but still kept the feel of intimacy as to retain the focus on Belle. Asante’s use of colour saturation and wide landscape sweeping shots gave the movie the look like that of the historical movies we know and love, Jane Eyre. The film focuses strongly on the relationships Belle cultivates, one of the most notable being that with her “papa” Lord Mansfield. The love Mansfield has for Belle is obvious, while he sets off to doing everything in his power to protect her. Belle’s relationship with Lord mansfield is very modern, ernest and real one. Tom Wilkinson along with Gugu Mbatha-Raw were captivating on their own merit, but as a pair were extraordinary, you felt as though this were a father protecting his daughter, loving his daughter and visa versa. Another one of Bells’s relationship explored was of that of her with her cousin Elizabeth. The dynamic between the two women, who essentially are of the same age, highlights brilliantly the social mindset of the time. Elizabeth while also of the age of marriage is not finically secure as Belle is, however Belle is expected to be a live in caretaker of the mansion whilst Elizabeth is encouraged to find an adequate suitor. As Belle tries to comprehend the predicament of her skin colour within the household, she meets John Devinier, a passionate idealist looking to change the world, who enlightens her of the social environment and what it really means, she finds herself losing her naive, overprotected mindset to gain something new growing in her heart. The chemistry between Belle and John is palpable. and is the cherry on the cake that is this dream of an art piece to watch.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw was a star in this film. She exudes with effortless grace, especially having to go from young girl to and intellectually mature, strong woman, she does this with extraordinary ease. Gugu was a delight to watch, her presence was full and knowing. You knew it was a film about her even if you came in half way through, was not sure of the name of the movie and who the characters were, you watched for a minute and you know it was her story. She was Belle.

Amma Asante’s direction brought to life a polite, sophisticated film that was shot beautifully and paced brilliantly, leaving you with a feeling of sated satisfaction at the very end.

8 of of 10 Stars

Happy Dreaming!

 

Watch Belle Trailer:

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