The world hasn’t changed all that much, unfortunately.
In 1947, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), the King of Botswana, met Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a London office worker, and for the most part, it was a match made in heaven. They instantly fell in love, they danced, they sang, they drank, and oh yeah, they planned on getting married. However, that proved to be the biggest hurdle for them to overcome when both the British and South African governments got involved, for various reasons. The latter had recently introduced the policy of apartheid and found the notion of a biracial couple ruling a neighboring country intolerable, whereas South Africa threatened the British to either break-up the couple or be denied access to South African uranium, which at the time, was vital for the government, and gold and face the risk of South Africa invading Botswana. Through it all though, the two would remain a loving couple that, at times, didn’t really know if all of this anguish, pain and separation was really all that worth it.
At the center of A United Kingdom, we have a really interesting tale that’s a lot bigger and much more ambitious than another similar racially-mixed couple movie, Loving. Writer/director Amma Assante is an interesting director, in that she takes this notion of racism and rather than just seeing it applied to the States, shows that it was the same problem in Britain, but this time, with much more to do with the government and appearances and all of that stuff. It’s a real story that, surprisingly, hasn’t gotten the big-screen treatment to now and you’d think with such rich source material, that yeah, it would be quite the stirring experience.
But sadly, that doesn’t happen.
What’s most odd about A United Kingdom is how safe and easy it plays itself. It never quite seems like the emotional thrill-ride it must have been for those actually involved with this real life part of history, nor does it ever translate to being a rich and passionate story about a couple overcoming prejudice and adversity from all sides, to stay by each other’s side, through the thick and thin. Sure, there’s interesting points to be made about politics and how all governments want to insure that they have the best PR program imaginable, to any and all lengths, but it mostly all gets lost in a near two-hour movie that, for quite some time, is just boring.
Which yes, I know may sound like a silly criticism, but honestly, it’s one I can’t seem to stop myself from saying. It’s the kind of movie where it’s so safe, so conventional, and so easy-going, surprisingly, that it’s hard to really get past it all. In a way, it almost feels like a made-for-TV production that would be perfect for the BBC, but instead, gets the big-screen treatment and because of that, actually suffers – there’s so much story, so many random twists and turns, that after awhile, you just sort of have to give up.
Because through it all, there is a loving couple that we’re supposed to love, adore and get behind, and yeah, it doesn’t quite happen. Then again, it’s not entirely Oyelowo or Pike’s fault; together, the two have a nice bit of chemistry that’s sweet and believable, but the movie doesn’t focus on them enough. In real life, the two figures were spread across from one another for so long, that the movie does follow suit and with that, we never quite feel their love for one another. One too many conversations over the phone, all by themselves, and never really all that pain-staking.
Then again, it’s probably what happened in real life, to the two actual people.
But is A United Kingdom a bad movie? Not really. It’s well-made, in that it looks nice, professional, and feels like it was given a sizable budget, but still, there’s just not that many feelings to be had. These issues of racism and hatred, for no real reason, are still relevant to today and because of that, are still powerful, but for a movie to try and really get in on that, and fail, almost feels like an missed-opportunity. Because there is a hard, honest, and emotional story to be told, but it’s just not told here.
Oh well. Maybe next time.
Consensus: Well-acted and filmed, A United Kingdom is also, unfortunately, too safe and easy to really do justice for its subject matter, or its real life counterparts, despite all the promise to be had.
5.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire