There has been so much sci-fi new recently, that it was about time I squeezed some drama in-between it all. So here is a review of the film Belle. (note contains spoilers)
It is based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, who was the mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral in 18th Century England. She, like her cousin is a bastard child, she never really knew her mother, and her father acknowledged her as his daughter, rare of a man of wealth, but even rarer when the daughter is of mixed race in this era. Her cousin’s mother passed away and she was not acknowledged by her father. Both are sent to live with their uncle at Kenwood House, Belle, purely because her father is away at sea. When he sadly passes away however, she inherits his wealth. She must then learn to live as a rich woman, who would be attractive to men because of her money, but may not truly be accepted because of the colour of her skin.
She meets John Divinier, the son of a clergyman, who hopes for a career in the law. He is taken under the wing of Belle’s great-uncle, who has worked his way up to the Lord Chief Justice. He is working on a case where a company owner was claiming on their insurance for loss of slaves on their ship during a voyage, due to having to throw them overboard to die due to lack of water. But did they really die this way, or did the merchant simply overcrowd the ship, causing the slaves to suffer? Well John believes the latter, and seems to be the only person that cares for the slaves. This case went on to start the motion of the abolishment of slavery.
John’s passion for the suffering of the slaves to be ignored and his lack of judgement over her skin colour make him attractive to her. But she must marry a gentleman, and that he is not.
Belle is torn between marrying a gentleman, who really just wants her money and title, or the man that has the same values as her. In reality Belle lived at Kenwood for 30 years and her and John lived happily ever after. She inherited her great-uncle’s fortune and they had three children.
One key focus of the film is a painting that Belle and her cousin Elizabeth sat for, which is said to have inspired the film.
I’m a sucker for period dramas, I don’t think there is any BBC adaptation from the 90s onwards that I haven’t seen, and with the likes of Poldark, Call the Midwife, Our Zoo and Mr Selfridge dominating weekend TV in the UK, I’ve had a constant flow of stuff to watch. In my mind, there just aren’t enough films though, especially good ones. And I have to say Belle is one of the good ones. It is quite a controversial subject matter, and I think it was handled gracefully. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, is beautiful and portrays the vulnerability and strong character of Belle so well.
If you are a fan of period dramas, then I recommend you try this one out.
Image sources: eurweb.com / the painting of Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Belle once attributed to Johann Zoffany, 1779. Photograph: Courtesy of the Earl of Mansfield/Scone Palace Courtesy of the Earl of Mansfield/Scone Palace/PR (via the Guardian online)
A beautiful period piece