Go

A United Kingdom

Year: 2016
Production Co: Pathé
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Director: Amma Assante
Writer: Guy Hibbert
Cast: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Tom Felton, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Nicholas Rowe

I don't think director Amma Assante or writer Guy Hibbert were consciously hoping for awards in making this movie, even though a strong comment on post-racialism seems a shoe-in in today's sociopolitical climate. They no doubt loved the idea of a romance that wouldn't be quashed even in the face of geopolitical instability.

Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), next in line to the throne of Bechuanaland, the British protectorate in thrall to the politics and economy of neighbouring South Africa that would one day become Botswana, and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a London secretary, were captured in a perfect storm of influences that demanded their union not be. Williams' working class English background would never accept a black husband, and Khama's people would never accept a white foreginer in their ruling court.

South Africa, by then (the 1960s) establishing racism as an official policy under apartheid, told the British government that if it allowed Khama and Williams' marriage to stand it would cut off access to the uranium supply that was critical to Britain's expanding nuclear industry.

Nobody – from Seretse's beloved Uncle (and the sitting monarch) to commissioners in London's foreign office - accepts it, and the story is about Seretse and Ruth having to stand up and fight for their right to be together while other responsibilities attack it from every side.

There's a decent portion of the story that goes as expected, but the script does a good job of showing two people truly tested. It's not that Seretse and Ruth were a pair of romantics who could afford to send the rest of the world to hell while they rode into the sunset – they risked everything from their relationships with their families to the stability of an empire, and it would have been very easy to be talked into believing they were just being selfish and pigheaded.

Oyeloweo and Pike play two very well written roles very well and the strain they feel according to the story is palpable, but it's very hard to put your finger on why it's more a movie to appreciate than love. Everything is in the right place – the stars have chemistry and it evokes the dusty African outback and grimy middle class postwar London streets brilliantly, but while you feel their pain and anxiety, it feels a bit more like a retelling of 60 year old history over tea with a slightly dull neighbour rather than the zing of being there living it.

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