‘Belle’ a well-crafted period film about race, class, and privilege

Contributing writer

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle
Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle

The beautiful biracial daughter Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) of Admiral Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode) and a slave woman is adopted by great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkerson)and his wife Lady Mansfield (Emily Watson) in 18th century England. The Mansfields raise Dido like their own daughter along with her cousin Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon).On the face of it,Dido seems to enjoy the luxuries of aristocratic England except shes often barred from her family’s dining area because of her cream-colored skin. She has to face other humiliations ,both subtle and not so subtle, such as from Lady Ashford (Miranda Richardson), mother of Oliver Ashford (James Norton) and her older son James Ashford (Tom Felton).

Belle is told in Jane Austen style in England during the slave trade before abolition. Both Dido and Elizabeth are eligible and suitable to find aristocratic husbands – during which envy brews in Elizabeth over Didos potential husband and Elizabeth’s suitor.

Dido doesn’t take the racism she encounters without resistance. Although she loves her family, Dido wants a certain amount of independence and and to be treated with dignity being the sole heir of her father’s inheritance. Behind her back,members of the household refer to her as the judge’s ¨notorious mulatto.¨ As Belle gets more interested in politics,especially about a particular slave ship mysteriously and ominously sunk, she turns down wealthy men as marriage material for handsome but a poor vicar’s son John Davinier (Sam Reid).

Screenplay writer Misan Sagay and director Amma Asante (A Way of Life) are both superb in creating Belle. Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle is a great reason in itself to see Belle. Tom Wilkinson, Emma Watson, Miranda Richardson, Sam Reid, and James Norton all give very fine performances as well in this mature period piece.

Belle (2014)

Fox Searchlight


Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Dido Elizabeth Belle),Tom Wilkinson (Lord Mansfield), Emily Watson (Lady Mansfield), Matthew Goode (Admiral Sir John Lindsay), Sarah Gadon (Elizabeth Murray), Penelope Wilton (Lady Mary Murray), Miranda Richardson (Lady Ashford), James Norton (Oliver Ashford), Sam Reid (John Daviñier).

Rated PG

Running time: 103 minutes

Director:Amma Asante

Written by Misan Sagay

Howard McQuitter welcomes reader responses at howardmcquitter68@gmail.com

2 Comments on “‘Belle’ a well-crafted period film about race, class, and privilege”

  1. Dear,Mr.Hobbes,this film is a period piece,a drama,not a raving blockbuster.By the way,you never got back to me when you were writing for the Insight more than 12 years ago.I think your lack of getting back to me after that time would mean millions of sleeping pills.Then again,we would overdose–wouldn’t we?

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