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A UNITED KINGDOM

SYNOPSIS: Prince Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) of Botswana causes an international stir when he marries a white woman (Rosamund Pike) from London in the late 1940s.

Review by Louise Keller:
This is one of those stories that beggars belief. It all begins with love between an African prince and a British office girl, but quickly develops into a story with interracial complications, royal family feuds, a nation in turmoil and a diplomatic crisis with international ramifications. Based on a true story, this is an extraordinary tale with multiple facets that become juicier as it progresses. I wish Guy Hibbert's script and Amma Asante's direction had brought more depth into the initial romance sequences and allowed them to feel more real, instead of another version of Eddie Murphy's Coming to America. However, such is the strength of the story (and the two central performances) that the film stands tall nonetheless and it is fascinating to see how everything plays out.

It is at a Mission Society dance in London in 1947, that Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a salesman's daughter, meets Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), a law student and prince from Bechuanaland (later to become Botswana), a British protectorate that is governed through a native tribal council. His comments about his dreams for unity in Africa initially draw her to him, and their love of dancing and jazz seal the relationship. The development of the relationship and Seretse's romantic proposal on a misty London evening while Big Ben watches is played out like a fairy tale.

The film shifts into top gear gear as the political and diplomatic implications become apparent with the involvement of the arrogant British Representative to Bechuanaland (Jack Davenport) and the dismissive British Consul (Tom Felton), who swiftly pour buckets of water on the romance and make life impossible for the young couple. Apartheid is a dirty word (and one that Ruth has not heard before). Davenport and Felton both do a fine job ensuring we dislike them from the outset. Echoing the family breakdown prompted by Ruth's racially prejudiced father (Nicholas Lyndhurst), Seretse's uncle Tshekedi (Vusi Kunene) demands his nephew divorce or renounce his birthright to the throne.

As the story unfolds dramatically, we become affected by the extraordinary leap in faith that the young English rose makes by leaving her home in London to embark on a new life in the heartlands of Africa where natives live in huts and the stars in the dark sky sparkle like diamonds. Being accepted is no easy task.

The juicy political ramifications and the way things play out are edge of seat material. The British Government uses Seretse like a pawn in a chess game, making it impossible for him to remain in Bechuanaland, forcing him and Ruth apart. The ugliness of the manipulative government's agenda is apparent. But Seretse has a plan...

Oyelowo has a compelling, quiet dignity, while Pike is warm and easy to like. It's a fascinating film but I couldn't help but wonder how much more potent it might have been in the hands of another director.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

A UNITED KINGDOM (PG)
(UK, 2016)

CAST: Rosamund Pike, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael, Charlotte Hope, Jack Davenport, David Oyelowo, Jack Lowden, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Jessica Oyelowo, Arnold Oceng

PRODUCER: Brunson Green, Peter Heslop, Charlie Mason, Rick McCallum, Justin Moore-Lewy, David Oyelowo

DIRECTOR: Amma Asante

SCRIPT: Guy Hibbert

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Sam McCurdy

EDITOR: Jonathan Amos

MUSIC: Patrick Doyle

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Simon Bowles

RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 27, 2016







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