'A United Kingdom'
'A United Kingdom'

Studio promotional image

'A United Kingdom'

Story By: STAFF WRITER
3/16/2017


The Plaza recently screened “Loving,” directed by Jeff Nichols, a true story about an interracial marriage that raised the question in Virginia: “Why can’t whites and blacks join in marriage?” a simple question that opened up a graveyard of hatred and racism that goes back centuries in America. “A United Kingdom,” directed by Amma Asante (“Belle”), depicts another historical interracial love story that was set against the rule of law in Africa and England, a love story that changed the history of both those countries forever.

Sir Seretse Goitsebeng Maphiri Khama (David Oyelowo), king of what was once called Bechuanaland Protectorate, and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), an English clerk at Lloyd’s of London, fall in love at a school party in London, where Seretse was studying to be a barrister. It is their mutual appreciation of jazz and dance that initially brings them together in a kind of “love at first sight.” She has no idea who he is in his own country. She only knows that she loves this man, and he her. Not until he drops to one knee and proposes marriage does she become fully aware of his status back home and what all this will mean, and she does not back down. She doesn’t agree to marriage because it will make her a queen of Africa — quite a frightening proposal — but because she truly loves this man and doesn’t want to live her life without him. Leave it up to jazz to create such a bond. Not to mention his name, Seretse, which means “the clay that binds.”

Their love doesn’t come into full view, however, until both cultures engage in exiling these two lovers, leaving them both without a country. Not until Seretse returns home and gives his people a powerful speech announcing his love of country, love of his people, but also the love of his wife, do things begin to change. As they continue to face opposition from both the English Parliament and his own family, he looks for ways to change this status quo. In the end, it is their love that becomes the driving force in finding independence for present-day Botswana, freeing it from English Colonial rule, making it a new democratic nation, with Seretse democratically elected as its first president and eventually making Botswana the fastest-growing economy in the world between 1966 and 1980. 

Oyelowo (“Queen of Katwe,” “Selma”) lends credibility and power in every speech he gives, driving home the importance of love of country, love of the people, and love of one’s spouse. Pike (“Gone Girl”) also delivers an unshakeable resilience in every test she meets, whether staying behind alone in Africa to give birth while joining the workforce among a group of Botswana women who initially reject her, or standing up to the pressures of her own family and the British Parliament that try to shame her publicly into renouncing her marriage.

Asante’s direction remains true to the story without caving into a Hollywood standard of fictionalizing reality for dramatic effect. Instead, she relies on the intelligence of the audience to understand the barriers between these lovers while engaged with racial, political and economic tensions raised by both cultures. Finally, we have a love story, beautifully filmed, that changes the rule of the law to the rule of love and, for the most part, this one is true.

For movie times, visit plazamac.org or call the box office at 631-438-0083.