By Alistair Harkness
A United Kingdom refashions the traditional 1940s period drama in a subtly interesting way.
Dramatising a forgotten chapter of Britain’s colonial history, Amma Asante’s third film turns the post-war political furore surrounding the 1947 interracial marriage between African prince Seretse Khama and British woman Ruth Williams into a timely issue movie that has the sweep and grandeur of an old-fashioned love story.
David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike play the star-crossed lovers: he’s an African prince studying law in London; she’s a typist who shares his love of music.
But as Seretse soon confesses to Ruth, he is also heir to the throne of what is now Botswana. When they get married and plan a return to his homeland – then called Bechuanaland – they find themselves confronted by prejudice that ranges from blatant racism in the street to institutionalised racism within the British establishment.
Building on her 2013 art house hit Belle, Asante smartly filters the political ramifications through her protagonists’ relationship and Oyelowo and Pike generate so much heartfelt chemistry it never feels preachy.
The result is absorbing mainstream cinema, a great story told with craft and flair.