Review: A United Kingdom – more of a flicker than a flame

Review: A United Kingdom – more of a flicker than a flame

This third film from actor-turned-director Amma Asante (A Way of Life, Belle), tells the story of the mixed-race marriage between London office clerk Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) and young black law student (and heir to an African Kingdom) Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo).

In her latest interview with The Guardian, Asante says ‘I’m here to disrupt expectations’. And yet, this film has too much material for its length. We do not feel invested in their love story. We see a few fleeting meetings but no indication that this love is an all-consuming do or die scenario. It tries too hard to be both a comprehensive political history and an endearing love story, and in attempting to achieve both, Asante has achieved neither.

‘It tries too hard to be both a comprehensive political history and an endearing love story’

The action takes place in 1940s London, where Ruth and Seretse fall in love in a burst of jazz music and speakeasies. Seretse returns to Bechuanaland, not just with an English education, but with an English wife, much to the consternation of the locals. British colonial powers likewise oppose the marriage, with the British attempting to exile Seretse from Bechuana to Jamaica because ‘there are some similarities’ between the two countries. Between Africa and the Caribbean? Two countries six thousand miles apart? Sure.

Where Asante does ‘disrupt expectations’ is in the film’s examination of racism towards a white woman in a predominantly black country. This inverse racism provides an interesting funhouse mirror version of the stereotypical filmic trope of interracial struggles.

‘Where Asante does ‘disrupt expectations’ is in the film’s examination of racism towards a white woman’

In Seretse’s final, rousing speech atop a car boot, he calls for independence, democracy and being ‘masters of our own fate’. In 1966, Bechuanaland gained independence as the Republic of Botswana with Seretse as its first Prime Minister. But, as a love story, it leaves one feeling luke-warm rather than burning with romantic fire or political passion. More of a flicker than a flame.

Emily McDermott

(Image courtesy of Pathe Uk)

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