September 22, 2014
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BELLE
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Joyce and Don Fowler

* * * *

(British historical drama)

It is the late 1700s in jolly olde England. It is a time of blatant prejudice, and it is not only about race. Social position runs rampant among the haves and the have-nots.

Based on a true story about a mixed-race young woman who is taken in by a powerful white judge (Tom Wilkinson) and his family, “Belle” explores the issues of slavery, class distinction and prejudice.

Belle is raised with her cousin, enjoying the life of wealth and proper manners, but always questioning where she belongs. She is “too high” on the social scale to eat with the servants, but “too low” to eat with the family when they have guests.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is magnificent as Dido (Belle), a woman who is given so much, yet discriminated against in a number of ways. Dido, in addition to being a mulatto, is an illegitimate child of the judge’s nephew and is raised properly by him and his wife (Emily Watson).

Because Dido has a healthy inheritance from her father, she is courted by upperclassmen who have titles but no money. Miranda Richardson plays a woman with two sons who need to marry into wealth and court the two young ladies.

Meanwhile, the local minister’s son John (Sam Reid) develops a friendship with Dido as the two question a court case involving the deaths of slaves who are literally thrown into the sea as cargo to save a sinking ship.

The famous trial changed history and eventually led to the abolition of slavery in England and is the basis of the plot. How much of the rest of the story is filled with poetic license is uncertain.

Morality, legality, social mores, prejudices based on social class and color of skin all play a part in this sensitive, thought-provoking movie.

Scenes between Reid and Mbatha-Raw are moving, as are those between Wilkinson and Mbatha-Raw, as the characters deal with their own inner prejudices.

If you like historical dramas that raise important issues, you should like this profoundly moving film. Rated PG.


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