Director: Amma Asante
Cast: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael
Runtime: 1 hr 51 mins
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 16 February 2017
Synopsis: Starring David Oyelowo (Selma) and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl); and directed by Amma Asante (Belle), A UNITED KINGDOM tells the inspiring true story of Seretse Khama, the king of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana), and Ruth Williams, the London office worker that he married in 1948 in the face of fierce opposition from their families and the British and South African governments. Seretse and Ruth defied family, apartheid and empire - their love triumphed over every obstacle flung in their path and in so doing they transformed their nation and inspired the world.
We are assuming not many of us know who Sir Seretse Khama was – and we aren’t even talking about the relationship he had with his wife Ruth Williams Khama. Unless you had to study the history of Botswana, a landlocked country located in Southern Africa, you probably won’t be aware of its first president.
Here’s what we gathered from the Internet about the man who helped his country undergo rapid economic and social progress during his presidency. Born into a powerful royal family of what was then the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland, Khama was educated in neighbouring South Africa and in the United Kingdom. He got to know a British woman, Ruth Williams, and eventually married her. Back in the days when such relationships were not widely accepted (you wonder how much has changed today?), it was naturally controversial.
And this is what the movie directed by Amma Asante (A Way of Life, Belle) is about.
David Oyelowo, who caught the attention of the media with his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr in 2014’s Selma, plays Khama. The 40 year old actor who graduated from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art effortlessly brings out the established gentleman in the historical figure. He is a firm leader who fights the rigid administration and gains the respect and support from his people.
Rosamund Pike, best known for her femme fatale characters in Die Another Day (2002) and Gone Girl (2014), has a wonderful chemistry with Oyelowo, as she plays the woman whom Khama falls in love with. Their true life romance is not a sappy one, as you see the two overcoming all odds to stay together, gaining acceptance from Botswana’s people and taking on the lead to bring the country to independence.
Supporting characters are played by Jack Davenport (James Norrington in the Pirates of the Carribean franchise), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter franchise) and Jack Lowden (The Passing Bells, War & Peace).
While the 111 minute film doesn’t offer what big budgeted blockbusters do (read: no extravagantly choreographed action sequences, eye popping computer animation or ear deafening explosions), it is a well meaning and solidly crafted piece of work which will find its fans in cinema goers. Neither does the British biographical drama feel like an Oscar bait: there are no tear inducing theatrics or over the top acting to attract film festival juries.
What you get instead, is a simple and straightforward depiction of a love story which happened more than 60 years ago, and how a couple became a country’s well loved leaders. At the time of its independence in 1966, Botswana was the world's third-poorest country, poorer than most other African countries. Khama set out on an economic programme to transform the nation into an export based economy. His wife was popular amongst her people, an influential and politically active First Lady during Khama’s four consecutive terms as president from 1966 to 1980.
This is a part of world history which you probably won’t be aware of until you watch the film. It may not be the most entertaining two hours of your life, but you’d have gained some knowledge of Sir Seretse Khama and his First Lady Ruth Williams Khama.
(A well-acted film which tells the inspiring true-life story of Sir Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams Khama - two people you probably wouldn't know of if you didn't watch this biography)
Review by John Li