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Midvale Journal

Dan's Review: Love, politics, race, come together for "A United Kingdom"

Mar 02, 2017 11:01PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo in A United Kingdom - © 2017 – Fox Searchlight

A United Kingdom (Fox Searchlight)

Rated PG-13 for some language including racial epithets and a scene of sensuality.

Starring David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Terry Pheto, Vusi Kunene, Abena Ayivor, Jack Davenport, Jack Lowden, Donald Molosi, Tom Felton, Charlotte Hope, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Anastasia Hille, Laura Carmichael, Jessica Oyelowo.

Written by Guy Hibbert, based on the book “Colour Bar,” by Susan Williams.

Directed by Amma Asante.


When we Americans think of “race relations,” we often conjure up images of riots, police brutality and antiquated segregation. Perhaps we also ignore the reality that other countries in faraway places we never heard of go through similar challenges, albeit with different circumstances and outcomes. On such untold story comes from the country of Botswana, a small African nation located on the northern border of South Africa. It’s the story of Seretse Khama and his wife Ruth, an interracial couple from the mid-20th Century that changed the fate of a nation, and set a standard for peace and equality during a troubling time in the world. The Khamas’ story is told in this week’s release of A United Kingdom.

David Oyelowo plays Seretse, the heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (now Botswana). While studying the law in London in the late 1940s, Khama meets and falls in love with Ruth (Rosamund Pike), and English secretary working for Lloyd’s of London. The couple marry, but not before Ruth’s parents disown her and Seretse’s uncle Tshekdi (Vusi Kunene) threatens to divide the tribe. After the marriage, the Khamas travel to Africa, where Seretse convinces a majority to accept him as their king, even though they are not sure about having a white woman as their queen. The British government, serving as protectorate of the African nation is not too pleased about the Khama matrimony either, and dispatches Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport) and Rufu Lancaster (Tom Fenton) to try and convince the Seretse to abdicate the throne or face harsh consequences (both characters are fictional, but are more than likely a hyper-sinister mashup of several Brits and the very real Lord Salisbury, an underling of Winton Churchill). Seretse and Ruth refuse, prompting Canning to exile the king from his own country. Meanwhile, Ruth becomes pregnant and gives birth to the couple’s first child. Seretse is forced to live in England away from his wife, child and countrymen until he can convince enough politicians to allow his return. Seretse is finally allowed to return home to meet with his uncle, where he makes a last-ditch effort to save the country (and its resources) from British imperialism or nearby South African Apartheid.

A United Kingdom is primarily a love story and secondarily a procedural political/historical drama. Such themes tend to bog down the film’s pacing, relying on a lot of political debate and unjust bureaucracy. The inclusion of all that bureaucratic garbage renders the movie a little more tedious than mot love stories/political dramas. Oyelowo and Pike are both marvelous in their roles, and are supported by a talented supporting cast, the cartoonish depiction of the snobbish British villains notwithstanding.

Despite these cinematic trifles, A United Kingdom is good story about how one loving couple was able to overcome antiquated prejudice and racism to build a nation. It may not be a story that's very "sexy" or exciting, but it's a relevant tale in a world that seems to grow more divided each passing day. 


A United Kingdom Trailer