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A United Kingdom - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
A United Kingdom
Directing: B-
Acting: B
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B-

Who knew that the heir to the throne of Botswana brought home a wife from London in the late forties? I didn't, nor did plenty of others, which makes it a pretty significant piece of history to be met with widespread ignorance. These are the kinds of stories that need telling, especially these days. The British fear of how this marriage would anger neighboring South Africa during the birth of Apartheid has clear relevance.

David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike are quite wonderful in the roles of Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana and Ruth Williams, and it's even fun to see Downton Abbey's Laura Carmichael as Ruth's sister. To be frank, a whole lot of the rest of the cast seems to be phoning it in, especially the many extras, which is really more a reflection of director Amma Asante (who did better with her previous film, 2014's Belle) than any of the actors. Okay, so probably a lot of audiences won't notice such things as readily as I do. I just watch too many movies and am attuned to greater background detail. But if you do pay attention to the background extras, you'll notice that rarely do they appear to be behaving naturally. It all feels staged, and of course that's exactly what it is, but it shouldn't be noticeably so.

And then there's the standard problem with biopics, which try to cram too much history into a two-hour movie. These are two hugely significant historical figures with massive implications for every decision they made, for both Botswana, at the time a British Protectorate known as Bechuanaland, and for the U.K. At a run time of 111 minutes, A United Kingdom can do little more than offer the bullet points version of their story. Honestly this would have been much better told as a well-produced television series, like The Crown.

At least the story's getting told at all, though. I'm not sure how many people are bothering to see it: I was one of only three people in the theatre last night, and its U.S. box office has barely passed $1 million. Hidden Figures, this is not. To be fair, Hidden Figures is a specifically American story, so greater interest in it makes sense. A United Kingdom is a British film telling an international story. The story had wide-reaching implications that lasted to this day, and it's really something people should know about.

I recommend reading up on it on Wikipedia. A United Kingdom may tell a vital story, but it doesn't quite manage being a vital film. Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo are easily the best things in it, and they don't even have an especially memorable onscreen chemistry together. The film is well shot and the story engaging, in a superficial way that never truly gets to the many complexities of the circumstances. It certainly touches on the politics -- including Ruth's estrangement from her own family over her marriage to a black man -- but, by definition, everything this movie touches on, it oversimplifies.

For many people, that's all they need. At least the story is being told: there's value in that. I suppose the state of movies is getting better when there are multiple other stories of equal significance being shown in theatres right now.

Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo are continent-crossed lovers in A UNITED KINGDOM.

Overall: B-
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