A United Kingdom the true story of the forbidden love of King Seretse Khama of Botswana (David Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a white woman from London, which caused an international uproar when they decided to marry in the late 1940s just as apartheid was being introduced into South Africa. It was a decision that altered the course of African history.
Directed by: Amma Asante
Starring: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Terry Pheto, Abena Ayivor and Tom Felton
Run Time: 1h 51min
Genre: Biography, Drama, Romance
3 Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
Your first thought upon walking out of A United Kingdom very well may be one of bewilderment at the story itself. Not that it could happen, of course, (look at today’s headlines, this type of forbidden love is still happening) but that a King was questioned and almost denied his wish. Anyway, you might next have the inclination to Google this to learn more about these individuals. It could also be, as it was mine, to gather all of the performances of David Oyelowo to date and, find out what he’s up to next so that you can see all of this man’s work.
Not to disparage the other performances in the production but he delivered the story of a man choosing love over country beautifully. He never waivered in his ability to sell us on the saga that deep within him, he believed the people of his county would, in due time, not require him to make that sacrifice and did so with the strength and compassion you rarely see with such balance.
It would be impossible not to be impressed with this entire cast and it would be nearly pointless to try and look beyond director Amma Asante’s (Belle) achievements with the film. She does an exceptional job with this labored piece and with only five directing credits under her belt, quite a feat, she handles the very difficult true life events like a master.
A United Kingdom was a hefty project to take on. It’s about Seretse Khama (Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Pike) and the political climate of their countries at the time they met in the 1940’s. He’s heir to the kingdom of Botswana and she’s a white woman from London and despite what their families feel about their union, they insist on being together and will be, even though they’ll be under great scrutiny. Her father has disowned her for being with a black man and his people, especially members of his own family, would prefer their leader be with his own kind. Not considering others feelings and only listening to their hearts, they marry and move to South Africa where, unfortunately for all, apartheid is starting to grow. Their union becomes widely known and a topic of great discussion. Ruth is a likable person and does her best to be friendly, learn the language and fit in as his family members do their best to make her want to leave. Oyelowo is outstanding when he addresses his tribe with a moving speech and speaks of Ruth with tears in his eyes, asking to see who would truly deny him his love. It’s a stirring confrontation and a memorable scene.
What ultimately doesn’t really work, but may have been better with a seasoned director, is the setup. This story is a pure and true love so strong that this couple defies all rules, family and country to be with one another should have had you cheering their achievements. However, as it’s told, you don’t really care. The reason for this is that we meet Ruth and Khama when they first meet and almost immediately they’re in love and getting married. There isn’t time for you to feel for these people or for the plight in which they find themselves. Asante does a wonderful job of keeping the rest of the story flowing, especially the focus on the British government wanting the diamonds and minerals on his land, but sadly, missing this crucial step of giving the audience time to identifying with what the couple is going through or to feel compassion for them, hurts her very efforts. It’s the single most important goal before telling the rest of the narrative for it to have worked as a well-structured and cohesive piece. It is a good drama about pressures put on them both and his overcoming his uncle asking him to renounce his birthright to the throne for marrying a white woman, but it isn’t as romantic as it claims to be. Keep in mind it is a true story… life doesn’t always come out as we plan.
I do recommend A United Kingdom but I’d say wait for VOD or DVD instead of paying to see this at the theatre.