Released February 10th
The true story depicted in A United Kingdom follows a mixed race couple with the courage to risk challenging the system of white supremacy that existed in southern Africa in the late 1940’s. It is similar to the story of Oscar-nominated Loving, yet set within a different culture in a disparate geographical territory, and involving a King. This story in is set against a politically complex and unsettled time in Bechuanaland (now Botswana), on the northern border of South Africa.
This is the story of Seretse Khama, heir to the throne of Bechuanaland, and his wife, Ruth Williams, a Caucasian British clerk, who struggle to be accepted by his country’s government after their marriage. In this historical account, Great Britain attempted to hold power over a developing African nation ruled by its tribes. Many of the choices made by the British politicians at the time, including the withholding of a research document crucial to the struggle, were related to the fact that Bechuanaland’s close neighbor, South Africa, was both a treasure trove of natural resources for the shrinking British Empire – and a champion of apartheid. The British valued their close ties with that country. The politics behind the story are thus extremely complicated.
Enter director Amma Asante who would simplify the narrative thread and create a beautiful love story against these political struggles. Assante is an actress/writer director. She herself has a mixed race marriage – her husband, Soren Kragh Pedersen, is the Chief of Media and PR for the European Police.
The movie is graced by superb performances from David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Terry Pheto (as Seretse’s sister) and Abena Ayiyor (as Seretse’s aunt). As I watched the film it seemed remarkable to me that the extras playing the people of Bechuanaland seemed entirely authentic. I discovered later that they actually are the people of modern day Botswana, probably playing the roles of their own ancestors. The African scenes in the film were shot in Botswana and the local people were invited to be extras. 3000 of them showed up on the first day of filming. In one scene, a group of women sing a beautiful song – reportedly it was unplanned and occurred spontaneously. These details epitomize what makes this film work. It is a heartfelt ode to a country, its culture and its history, and to the courage, persistence and vision of a leader.
Perhaps the greatest success in the story of Seretse and Ruth is that two of their sons are now members of the government of independent Botswana. Ian Khama has been President since 2008 and Tshekedi Khama II has been Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism since 2012. President Ian visited the set during the shoot and upon seeing Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo, remarked, “I never thought I’d see my parents again.” World history is peppered with these types of stories, back to time immemorial, stories of those who have the courage and conviction to dare to challenge bullies who use their power to suppress their people.
Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. firstname.lastname@example.org. For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com