Today’s Cinema Society screening was a film that’s been getting great buzz after playing at various festivals and opening in limited release on Friday. It’s a beautifully shot period piece about a little known piece of British history involving the illegitimate, mixed-race daughter of an aristocratic admiral and her relationship with the high-born family that raises her – all against the backdrop of changing attitudes toward slavery.
From the distributor, Fox Searchlight:
BELLE is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet her status prevents her from 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 bent on changing society, he and Belle help shape Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.
I was amazed during the Q&A with the film’s director, Amma Asante, that she made the film for a mere $10 million. It has the look and feel of a big-budget Merchant-Ivory production with gorgeous castles and costumes and settings. And what a cast of actors, including newcomer Mbatha-Raw as the title character. And, of course, the story is fascinating – how aristocratic society accepted Belle because of her lineage and, after her father dies, her inheritance, but bars her from even such basic opportunities as attending dinner parties with the rest of her family. My only criticism was that there tended to be a bit of over-writing with too much information in too much detail, not to mention a lot of speechifying. But it’s definitely worth a viewing.