A United Kingdom [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (21st July 2017).
The Film

"This is likely the most inspiring story of love and endurance ever told" - Nelson Mandela.

Falling in love is a tough business, falling in love with a black king makes things tougher, being a white woman in the 40’s in England, makes things practically impossible. Based on Susan Williams’ book, "Colour Bar", this film tells the story of Sertse Khama and Ruth Williams, and how their love conquered politics and prejudice.

It is England in 1947 and Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) is a law student; he is also an amateur boxer, and an apparent heir to the throne of the country of Bechuanaland (now known as Botswana). One night he happens to meet Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) at a dance, and the chemistry between them in undeniable. The problem is that Williams is a lowly daughter of a salesman and she happens to be white; that is socially unacceptable. Some people may think that love is color blind, but that is not the case as far as Ruth's father is concerned. When she announces that she has found the man that she wants to spend the rest of her life with, Daddy denounces her and storms out of the room. Meanwhile Seretse is feeling pressure from his uncle, Tshekedi (Vusi Kunene) who has raised him to inherit the throne; in no uncertain words he tells Seretse that he is letting him and his country down by marrying a white woman. The two star crossed lovers have no one but the other to depend upon, but in the end love will triumph.

I am sure that it is very difficult to produce a film that deals with such sensitive issue as racism and colonialism without becoming an overbearing history lesson. It is all too easy to paint the British as a racist country without a heart, especially when portrayed by Jack Davenport as a snooty bureaucrat, Alistair Canning, England's representative in South Africa, but director Amma Asante brings the story to life with an assured feminine touch, never letting us forget that this is a love story, first and foremost. However both sides are equally as hard on the couple as Ruth finds out first hand when Seretse's sister-in-law gives her a dressing down speech regarding her role as the country's first lady. The pressure that the duo feels is tremendous and the British government is more concerned with diamonds and uranium than it is with human rights, but they set in motion a scheme to have Seretse leave his wife and country behind for an important meeting where they inform him that he is banned from returning for five years’ time. Once the film shifts from England to Africa, the focus falls more upon Kate’s struggle to find acceptance among the people of the village. It is while Seretse is stranded that Kate discovers that she is pregnant, and she eventually has the baby alone. While living by herself Kate finds the inner strength necessary to bridge the gap between her and the villagers by assisting with the daily chores such as carrying water. This leads to a moving scene where all the women of the village gather together and sing Kate a song that proclaims her to be accepted.

Meanwhile Seretse’s hopes are raised when he learns that Winston Churchill himself has promised that if he wins the latest election, that Seretse shall be released back to his own country. After Churchill’s conservative party is elected, it turns out that Churchill lied, and that the five year ban is now turned into a lifetime sanction. Seretse is having a hard time as he feels that the isolation from his family is affecting him and he asks Kate to come and visit him in England. At the airport she is greeted by Seretse; he informs her that there are a number of visitors that are there to see her, and she is finally reunited with her family, including her standoffish father. Meanwhile back in Bechuanaland, the British have commenced with drilling to uncover valuable minerals and gems; they will no doubt commandeer them in the name of the British Empire, and the villagers will remain amongst the poorest countries in the world. In the end Seretse signs an agreement with the British, giving him the right to lead his country in exchange for the right to explore diamond mining, so in a way the country of Bechuanaland still needs the nod of British authority to have who they want to be their leader. Botswana finally shrugged off British ownership and declared itself as being independent in 1966; the son of Ruth and Seretse is now the current leader. Still the film is rather depressing, but at least this film got made, and the couple’s story has been told.

“No man is free who is not master of himself.” - Seretse Khama.

Cinematographer Sam McCurdy captures the breathtaking beauty of the African countryside with his sweeping pans, and the lighting is impeccable. This was the first film to be made in Botswana and you will wonder why this landscape hasn’t been captured before this. David Oyelowo performance is a perfect fit for the future leader, and he makes several fiery speeches that focus on the issue of race and equality that are truly inspiring. Tom Felton, who plays the district commissioner to Bechuanaland Rufus Lancaster, appears in one scene where he departs from an automobile clad in a black trench coat and hat, and I immediately flashed upon the scene in "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) of the black clad Nazi whose face melts when the ark of the covenant is revealed. I am sure that the director did not intend this to occur, but nevertheless, Felton plays the role of the villain well.

Some viewers may find the film a bit heavy handed as it mixes politics and history with a romantic story, but this is an important film and I appreciated the actor’s finely nuanced performances and the director’s commitment to getting the story told.

Video

Presented in widescreen 2.40.1 mastered in HD 1080p using AVC MPEG-4 compression, the beautiful lush photography of the countryside and an interesting use of locations aids in telling the story visually. Close-ups are well done and flesh tones are well balanced. The color palette is muted and incorporates an extensive use of brown and green.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included in English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround and an English Descriptive Audio 5.1 surround track for the visually impaired. The nicely balanced DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track captures conversations as well as the more ambivalent environmental soundscape. Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French, and Spanish.

Extras

The disc includes a few supplements by way of four short featurettes, a theatrical trailer, as well as a DVD copy version of the film as well as a digital copy of the film. Below is a closer look.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

"Making-of" featurette (6:19), features interviews with the cast and crew, including some segments with the screenplay writer and the director. Standard fare.

"Filming in Botswana" featurette (6:06), the challenges of filming on location is covered.

"The Legacy of Seretse and Ruth" featurette (3:48), a touching portrait of the real life couple that inspired the film.

"London Film Festival Opening Night Gala Premiere" featurette (6:08), clearly a big deal to the cast and director, footage from the red carpet opening.

Theatrical trailer (2:23), an old fashioned love story with a political backstory.

DISC TWO: DVD

This is a standard definition DVD copy version of the film.

Included in the case is a download code for an HD digital copy version of the film.

Packaging

Packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case, first pressings include a cardboard slip-case cover.

Overall

this is an interesting film that tells a fascinating and true story with outstanding performances from all involved

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: A-

 


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