Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Belle

Directed by Amma Asante and starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Tom Wilkinson, Belle is a period drama, akin to Girl with a Pearl Earring in the respect that it’s a semi-accurate biopic based on a real life person from a real life painting. Out now on DVD and Blu-Ray is Belle, and it’s pretty much everything you want and expect from a film in this vein. It’s the first British film to be shot in true-4k which makes it fortunate that it’s a damn good film. It's not for everyone I grant you, you will probably hate it if you dislike period dramas and even more so if you are racist.


Belle begins with the admission by a gentleman that he has a daughter that he loves very dearly. Society however deems it negative that he has had this child illegitimately with a black woman and this raises many issues. Unfortunately he has to leave her with her aunt. This raises interesting but heavy subjects early on, and it doesn’t take long before subjects such as racism, gender inequality and slavery are introduced. The film is handled so delicately however that the plot is primarily about the usual Austen-esque sexist dreams of English Literature students. Women jumping with excitement over their possibilities of being married to a man who is essentially buying them as a status symbol, and all the other stuff that a lot of people miss and idolise yet would be shameful to admit out of context. 


While the delicate back and forth arrangements of trying to find a rich husband for the pretty girls is going on, there is also a darker sub plot that is most real and most unpleasant. The Zong case was an ongoing law battle on whether or not a fraud had been committed with someone disposing of cargo while during a voyage. The cargo in this case was a collection of black slaves that had been thrown overboard, either because the ship was running out of drinking water and therefore the slaves had to be disposed of so the white sailors could survive, or they were thrown over because they were no longer considered to be worth any money. 

Attention is drawn to the fact that traditionally black people were always depicted as lower, physically speaking, on portraits often servants and the like. The famous painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle is the first to have a black person seen to be equal to her white counterpart.  The film was described by Amma Asante as being a story about race interwoven through a traditional Jane Austen story, and it’s seamlessly done.  The film is very beautiful and poignant and yet nonetheless mainstream entertainment. 


The struggle of Belle and her friends and families are all very well illustrated, torn between understanding what is right and what is socially acceptable. If only Northern Ireland politicians (not all of them just most of them), would watch this film and realise that trying to enforce a law that allows people to be bigots in the name of their religion so they don’t have to serve gay people is exactly the same thing as the sexual and racial oppression we used to have. Perhaps they would watch this and suggest giving the go ahead to being racist in the name of your personal made up imaginary friend in the sky also. God they really are complete idiots. At best I think this film may iron out a few creases in the mind of an already relatively liberal minded person, but it is a film worth watching and as period dramas go, one of the best. 

Belle is excellent drama and gets 4/5.

★★★★☆

Dave Roberts


Belle at CeX


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