The illegitimate, mixed-race daughter of a Captain in the Royal Navy finds her unique social standing become instrumental in the campaign to end slavery in England after meeting an idealistic young vicar’s son.
Director Amma Asante’s period drama Belle stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the mixed-race Dido Elizabeth Belle, the daughter of British naval captain John Lindsay (Matthew Goode) and an African woman named Maria Belle. The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, explores Dido’s life as an 18th century aristocrat growing up in a very racist and intolerant England.
At John Lindsay’s request, Dido’s great uncle (Tom Wilkinson) and aunt (Emily Watson) – Lord and Lady Mansfield – agree to take care of her under the guise that she’s a playmate for her cousin, Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), since Dido and Elizabeth are similar in age. Despite being well-educated and an heiress, however, Dido is not allowed to dine with her family and is looked down upon by society because of her “exotic” roots.
In the film, most of which is fictitious since there is little known about Dido’s real life, Dido embarks on a love story with a young lawyer named John Davinier (Sam Reid). Dido’s guardian Lord Mansfield, however, looks down on Davinier and deems him unworthy of marrying Dido given their respective social positions. Tom Felton (Harry Potter franchise) also stars as a vehement racist who doesn’t bother to hide his disdain for Dido.
About the film, IndieWire’s Zeba Blay writes:
While it has its fair share of smoldering romance and moments of the sort of lightness that we’ve come to expect from Austen-esque costume dramas, what’s refreshing about “Belle” is its bravery. The film could have taken a very one note, one perspective stance on the position of its main character. Instead, there is a great deal more nuance to Belle’s circumstances, and her relationships with those around her.
Belle will be released in theaters on May 2, 2014.