A United Kingdom, directed by Amma Asante, offers a compelling story, one that I’m interested to go forth and learn more about. The problem is, the film puts such a fixed-focus on that story, that it fails to adequately explore the heart of the film; it’s main characters, who are deserving of as much time and focus, as the story was. Due to the film not balancing its two most integral elements, there is a lack of humanity; to what is the truest human story: love. But let’s get the review underway, and see if, A United Kingdom does enough to keep you invested in what is has to show.
The film tells the true story of, Seretse Khama – played by David Oyelowo – the soon to be King of Botswana. During his time studying in London, he falls in love with, and ends up marrying, Ruth Williams – played by Rosamund Pike – a British woman who lives a simple life working in an office and spending time with her family. However in 1947, both Britain and Botswana are unwilling to allow a soon to be King and a white British citizen move to, and begin ruling a country that does not want them. Both the political and cultural ramifications are thought to be too great for either side to stand-by and allow it to happen. The two of them must fight both sides, just so that they can be together, and begin to live out their lives as husband and wife.
So undoubtedly the story in, A United Kingdom is one that caught my attention, and then held it throughout the film. To see such unfair, and almost evil efforts be put towards stopping people from allowing to live the lives they want, because of the colour of their skins and the political standings they have, is something that gets the blood boiling. The film was never going to struggle to get me (or most audiences for that matter) to invest and root for a happy ending. Throughout the film, I was engrossed in what was happening, and I was always interested to see how things would develop. The film’s central story is one that is important that people know about, and one that certainly keeps you engaged from beginning to end.
Here’s the problem though: the film focuses so much on the larger scale of the story, that the smaller more intimate sections of the film get overlooked. Seretse and Ruth’s relationship is barrelled through in the first act of the film – very little time is given for the audience to acclimate themselves to who they are, and what special moments/details make their love so clear. I never felt I got to properly know them as people; I never felt I understood what endearing intricacies made up their relationship – and that’s a big problem within a film that needs you to connect and empathise with its main characters.
It’s not that I didn’t care for them, or the heart wrenching struggle that they were going through; from a simple human level, I cared about their outcome. The problem is that, because the film doesn’t give the necessary exploration of its two main characters, there is a hollow feeling, too much of the film; there is a lack of true life within so many of the scenes.
The film focuses so intently on the political back-and-forth that things begin to feel cold in their approach. I mean… when you focus so intently on the cold brutality of the British Empire, and its never-ending, cruel attempts to stop, Seretse and Ruth from being together. You need to offset that with some strong central characters, whose love story breaks through the harshness of the political overseers and stands tall as a shining beacon of hope. ‘A United Kingdom’, simply didn’t do that.
I’m also conflicted when it comes to the films primary performances. David Oyelowo (Seretse Khama) effortlessly commands every scene in which he is in. He is able to convey so much, while doing so little. And when it comes time for him to stand up and deliver a speech, filled with so much emotion, it is something that brought my (unfortunately) noisy cinema to a standstill. It was the only moment during the entire film where pure, untainted silence fell over the cinema, and all focus was on the words and the emotion that, Oyelowo was presenting.
Rosamund Pike (Ruth Williams) on the other hand, doesn’t always match the tone of the rest of the film. She felt uncomfortable and out-of-place in many scenes; delivering lines awkwardly, and not ever feeling like she settled into being the character. It’s a shame because she is a very talented actress, but here, she seems out-of-place – especially next to David Oyelowo.
I think the one thing in, A United Kingdom that can’t be judged poorly, is how Botswana is presented in the film. While we don’t get the large sweeping shots of the landscape that are usually the norm, we do get a wonderful look at the rich and beautiful people of the country. It’s never treated in a dismissive or stereotypical way; it is allowed to shine by simply being itself – and that’s uplifting.
So I’m in a difficult place with, A United Kingdom. I, in no way disliked the film; I found many elements of it to be charming and respectful. But I can’t deny that the film really does fail to give time to elements that are really integral to the overall experience. So while I wasn’t upset with the time I spent with the film, I was disappointed that it didn’t get some of its most important parts right. So this leaves me struggling on whether I am going to recommend it or not…
I think because of the importance of the story, and the films respectful attempt to enlighten us to people who were deserving of so much better, I am going to recommend, A United Kingdom. The film has many problems, but it also has good intentions, and I can’t fault it for that. So if you get the chance, perhaps give this film… a chance.
I would love to hear what you thought of, A United Kingdom, so please leave your thoughts in the comments down below. If you are feeling kind, and would like to continue reading my reviews, perhaps give my blog a follow, or follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsTurtle. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my review, and I hope you liked it enough to return.