When the trailer for Amma Asante’s “A United Kingdom” popped up on YouTube as a pre-roll ad, I was captivated by it. Instead of eagerly awaiting the moment I could skip after thirty seconds, I was hooked and immediately added it to the extensive list of ‘movies I need to see’ in my the notes on my phone. So, when an email from Fox Searchlight popped into my inbox inviting me to the New York premiere, I was, quite obviously, psyched.
I wanted to love “A United Kingdom,” I really did.
The potential was there, a talented cast, an emotive score, a strong director, and a true story that would move even the coldest of hearts. For those unfamiliar, the film tells the true story of Seretse Khama, the heir to an African throne who marries a white woman from London in a post-WWII, pre-apartheid world. Sadly, there are many themes in this film that are still extremely relevant to our lives more than half a century later. And, although topical, the horrible pacing sort of ruins the lasting effect that film could have had on audiences.
The love story was rushed, and before you even had time to know who these characters are as people, Seretse (David Oyelowo), was on one knee proposing to Ruth (Rosamund Pike). With only 100 minutes of film, though, how can I really expect that much character development? Still, in the short time, both managed to give exquisite performances – which continue to be undermined by the pace of the movie.
That wasn’t the only relationship that was lacking, either. All relationships throughout the film felt underdeveloped, which took away from the stakes of the story. Why was I supposed to care that Ruth’s father was banishing her from the family if I had never seen them interact? In fact, their relationship always seemed cold, so when that moment happened and passed, it did so with a flicker.
Although I have yet to determine if its flaws lie in the editing or the script (or maybe a combination of the two), it didn’t find its feet until halfway through, and by then, it was too late to really redeem itself as a romantic love story – which is what it was marketed as. Though, if you look at it through the lens of a strictly political tale, then I would admit it becomes a stronger film.
The story of colonialism and imperial rule in itself was interesting and I was glad when the focus shifted toward the relationship between countries rather than these two people. Of course, because of the narrative of the story, the two arcs are intertwined. But still, I found the diplomatic interactions much more compelling.
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A United Kingdom Missed Its Throne. Photo credit: Getty and Fox searchlight