Thursday, 12 June 2014

Cinema Review - Belle


With the phenomenal success of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave earlier this year, it is not surprising to see another film tackling the important issues of race and slavery, and although Belle doesn’t quite reach for the jugular with its depiction of a troubled time in English history, it is equally relevant as a reminder of our heritage and the difficulties faced by those on the receiving end of such prejudiced views.

As the illegitimate child of a navy admiral whose duty requires his presence at sea, Belle is plunged into a foreign world when she is reluctantly left in the care of her aristocratic great-uncle. Motherless, and unaware that her mixed race origins are viewed unfavourably, she is compelled to bond with her new family who regard her with a higher standing than that of their slaves but not with the same respect and privileges afforded to their own.

Set against the backdrop of a testing lawsuit involving the deaths of numerous slaves, Belle’s emotional journey is both captivating and inspirational to behold as she grows into a young woman who gains affection from a number of suitors, one of which has a particular interest in the aforementioned anti-slavery case, and just so happens to be her great-uncle’s understudy. Other legible bachelors she encounters are entranced by her exotic looks, and an equally attractive dowry that is left to her by her father, but some are less forgiving of her origins. Torn between true love, the limits of social acceptance, and in competition with her closest friend and confidant - her cousin, Elizabeth Murray - Belle's choices are fraught with heartache.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw displays the perfect combination of innocence, curiosity and also courage in her portrayal of Belle, and her irresistible charm is the heart that drives the story forward; only the most cynical of audiences will be able to resist becoming emotionally involved with her plight. A fairly stiff supporting cast (some of which appear to be merely going through the motions rather than acting) cannot compete with Mbatha-Raw’s impressive performance, although Tom Wilkinson and Miranda Richardson are particularly enjoyable to watch as Belle’s great-uncle, Lord Murray, and the mother of a potential suitor.

Both the grandiose set design and lavish costumes do a superb job of transporting the audience back to the 1700’s, even if some of the language used seems slightly out of place for the era. Director Amma Asante has done a commendable job of bringing this remarkable tale to the big screen, and it is a shame that her writing credit was removed by the Writer’s guild because she reworked a previous adaptation of the screenplay, even though the majority of dialogue in the script is said to be Asante’s original work.

Not only is Belle one of the better period dramas of recent years, but it also a moving morality tale that will undoubtedly reverberate with audiences regardless of their familiarity with this era of history. There may be a few missteps in the romantic subplots but those with even just a passing interest in period films are sure to look past these shortcomings to find a heartwarming and inspirational tale.

7/10


If you like this you will enjoy these:

Immortal Beloved
Quills
Bel Ami
Summer in February