FERNANDO’s CORNER ~ Posted April 5th, 2016
I have just seen the glorious Blu Ray release of the wonderful film “BELLE” (2013) by the talented British director Amma Asante, that depicts a real story about which we little knew about: that of a woman born of a black woman enslaved in the West Indies and of a white English man of noble lineage ( played by Matthew Goode ) and born into affluence. I had long waited to see this film ever since I knew of its premiere in London and then my longing was reaffirmed after Tess praised the film highly after she saw it upon its release in NYC.
The film is sumptuous-looking and has cinematography, sights, décor, costumes et al, to die for. The cast is uniformly good, with a group of younger people ( Sara Gadon, Sam Reid, James Norton, Tom Felton ) surrounded by pros of such caliber as Penelope Wilton,
Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson and Miranda Richardson. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays Dido…what can I say? Like in the case of Lupita Nyong’o, here we have another classy woman, beautiful, talented, poised, who like Lupita, could well fill Audrey Hepburn’s shoes in a remake of “Roman Holiday” couldn’t she Tess? [ CineMaven Note: I say “YES!” to that, Fernando. ] The subtlety, nuance and complexity of her performance as a lady of noble birth, an heiress, but at the same time, a sort of “outcast” among her peers is superb. She sums it so well when she says to her Papá (Great Uncle), the Lord Chief Justice of England, no less, that she’s not
good enough to dine with her family on formal occasions (she did when only the immediate family was present), but on the other hand, her rank kept her from dining with the staff of the house, all white people in the Family’s estate in the country. When she travels to the city house of the family she meets a black woman who’s a maid there, but not a slave, mind you. His Lordship did not have slaves. Good for him. It was circa 1788 and not many people thought slavery was a crime. Dido is accomplished, plays piano better than her
cousin and is smarter than her as well. She conducts herself with total dignity, like the best heroine of a fairy tale, but with honesty and rea-lity towards the depiction of her character. Since she inherits a vast amount of money from her dad, she’s less a slave than her own impoverished cousin. Her cousin is the daughter of a rich and titled man, who remarried and left her behind with her great-uncle (Wilkinson) who raised her and Dido. So, in spite of her mixed race, Ms. Lindsay holds the reins of her own destiny a little more and has the luxury of choice…something her white cousin of privileged birth does not. As her cousin tells her in a scene from the film: “we are the property of men.” Not Dido. Her economic independence permits her to rise above her peers, in spite of racial prejudice.
An exquisite story, subtly done, lush, elegant, but at the same time real and hard to take at times, witnessing the rejection of Dido by “titled” peers who react to her color. But then, there many others who love her deeply and want the best for her. I can’t praise enough this wonderful film. Its screenplay links the story with any story out of a Jane Austen novel, only here it’s not the Upper middle classes or Baronets and Esquires we are dealing with, but high- ranking nobles and some of the most influential people of their time. And Dido’s great uncle, who loved her as his daughter, was one of them.
A new star has been born, the beautiful and very talented GUGU MBATHA-RAW. We want to see more of her. And one last thing, that is important for me to say, I feel director Amma Asante did not let the story fall into the maudlin,very shocking scenes or the sentimental manipulations that many a film depicting stories like this, fall into. Not this one, thank heavens. Excellent job Amma Asante!
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