Review of the week
Film: A United Kingdom
Cast: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Vusi Kunene, Terry Pheto, Tom Felton, Jack Davenport
Director: Amma Asante
Classification: 10 -12 PG
Reviewer: Peter Feldman
‘A United Kingdom’ is a compelling true-life historical romance that threatened to destroy the sensitive fabric of Botswana when its crown prince fell in love with an English shopkeeper’s daughter.
Amma Asante’s beautifully crafted, well acted drama shines light on a controversial episode in the history of our African neighbours – the emotionally driven love story between Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike).
It may veer unashamedly towards sentimentality, but this aspect is never overdone.
It began in 1940, when Seretse Khama was studying law in London and unexpectedly fell in love with Ruth Williams. He had spent his entire life preparing to rule his kingdom — a kingdom that was also considered a part of the UK, hence its “protectorate” designation — and was expected back in Africa to begin his life as king.
Their subsequent marriage scandalised not just the tabloid-buying public, but the British civil service, the Botswana tribes and – most dangerously – South Africa, whose apartheid laws came into being when the Nationalists came into power in 1948.
Asante’s delicately fashioned narrative may be morally simplistic in its approach, but still manages to address some of the arguments that arise in this complex relationship. It also highlights the corrupt machinations of colonial rule and how Khama’s authority is constantly being betrayed by smarmy, upper-crust movers and shakers.
The film boasts a number of touching moments and the strongest sequences revolve around Khama’s period of exile in the UK and how the post-war Labour government attempts to take back control of an increasingly defiant protectorate and, at the same time, pacify the South African government.
Television veteran Guy Hibbert has written a solid script (based on Susan Williams’ book ‘Colour Bar’). It allows the two key protagonists, the charismatic David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, to dominate proceedings with assured, nicely nuanced performances.
What is fascinating to observe is the manner in which Oyelowo maintains the character’s balance, exuding moments of quiet dignity one moment and then delivering a rousing speech when the occasion warrants. Also intriguing is Pike’s masterful transformation of her Ruth Williams character from the shrinking violet who arrives for the first time in Africa and is met with open hostility, to the confident, Jeep-driving individual who baited authority and bonded with the people. Pike’s previously non-political Ruth blossoms into an ardent speaker and defender of both her husband and her adopted country.
South African players also occupy key roles, including Vusi Kunene, as Seretse Khama’s anguished uncle; and Terry Pheto, as Khama’s sister Naledi, who at first finds it difficult to accept her new sister-in-law. Tom Felton, who was part of the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise, and Jack Davenport play a pair of British diplomats involved in the crisis.
‘A United Kingdom’ is not concerned with depicting the early joys of the couple falling in love. It skips lightly over these segments, concentrating instead on them staying in love while confronted by heartbreaking obstacles.
The film is stirring and inspirational and is happily devoid of cheesy moments and over-the-top revelations. It shows that a marriage which faced intense political machinations could endure.
All in all, ‘A United Kingdom’ is a fulfilling study of a romance that stayed strong in the face of great adversity. It forever changed an entire country that was willing to move forward.
Other releases (synopsis only)
CAST: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, Ben Foster, Sidse Babett Knudsen
DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
Following up on the worldwide su ccesses of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ (2006) and ‘Angels & Demons’ (2009), ‘Inferno’ is the third adaptation in Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series of novels and the latest addition in the $1.2 billion film franchise. It was the best-selling adult book of 2013, proving that readers around the world can’t get enough of Robert Langdon.
The film re-teams director Ron Howard, who most recently directed the acclaimed Beatles documentary ‘Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years’, with Tom Hanks, who returns in one of his signature roles playing the quick-thinking and resourceful Langdon. Hanks explains the enduring attraction of the franchise: “There is something Dan Brown has figured out – everybody likes a good puzzle, especially one you can actually figure out the clues to one at a time and solve,” he says. “These movies give that to the audience – it is almost an interactive film, and it has been like that since ‘The Da Vinci Code’.”
Borrowing its title from Dante’s masterwork, the Latin word for Hell, ‘Inferno’ has the added component of a psychological thriller. In the film, Dr. Langdon wakes up to face his biggest challenge yet – he has lost his memory. Haunted by feverish visions and intense headaches, he must find out what has happened to him, and why.
Hanks explains, “Hell for Langdon in the movie is both a state of mind and a very physical experience because he is wracked with pain in his head and he is tortured by the fact he is ignorant of the reasons why.”
“Without a doubt, Robert Langdon goes through his own personal hell at the opening of this movie,” says author Dan Brown. “He wakes up in a hospital room in possession of a mysterious artefact for which people are trying to kill him. He must decipher the artefact and follow a trail of clues to find out who wants him dead and why. At the end of the day, he realizes the stakes are far greater than his own personal drama – the future of the planet is at stake.”
Langdon teams up with Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), a doctor he hopes will help him recover his memories. Together, they race across Europe and against the clock to stop a madman from unleashing a global virus that would wipe out half of the world’s population.
Langdon must make sense of clues relating to Dante’s epic poem. “Langdon’s hallucinating mind is tormented by a man obsessed with Dante. He’s forced to pick up the pieces and make sense of this clue path that’s been laid before him,” Howard explains.
“Dante invented our modern conception of Hell,” says producer Brian Grazer. “In the book, Dante witnesses sinners on Earth punished by poetic justice. That becomes the basis of the puzzles Langdon has to solve in this movie. Dante described Hell; the painter Boticelli visualized Hell; but only Robert Langdon, the symbologist, can prevent Hell on Earth by stopping the release of a deadly virus.”
FILM: THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Haley Lu Richardson
DIRECTOR: Kelly Fremon Craig
An honest, candid, often hilarious look at what it’s like for a young woman to grow into an adult woman in the modern world. Everyone knows that growing up is difficult, and life is no easier for high school junior Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), who’s already at peak awkwardness when her all-star older brother starts dating her best friend. All at once, Nadine feels more alone than ever, until the unexpected friendship of a thoughtful boy gives her a glimmer of hope that things just might not be so terrible after all.