One of the first truly great films of 2014 is "Belle". "Belle" is directed by Amma Asante, written by Misan Sagay, and produced by Damian Jones. It stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton, Sam Reid, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon, Tom Felton, and James Norton. The film is a loosely based of the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle (a wonderful Gugu Mbatha-Raw) a woman of mixed race who is raised by her uncle, the Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice, at his estate of Kenwood House.
What makes the film so wonderful is that is brings together several difficult, yet profound, threads into one cohesive and moving story. One one hand, we have the issues with Belle being raised as a aristocrat while also having a mother who was a slave. Then there's her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, who does not have to face the racial constraints of the time period but does not have the money Belle has in which to secure a proper match in a husband. Furthermore, Belle and Elizabeth's uncle is presiding over a slavery case (Somerset v Stewart). Added to the mix are the men in the two cousin's lives, James Ashford (played by a competent if not type cast Tom Felton), Oliver Ashford (James Norton ), and John Davinier (Sam Reid ).
"Belle" is a thoughtful film. It is filled with sharp dialogue, moving scenes and fantastic acting. The movie, like 2012's "Lincoln", uses one court case to demonstrate the larger social and moral issues of the time period. This is a nicely done approach as it allows the viewer to see the complex dichotomy that Lord Mansfield is forced to consider between the laws at play in the Somerset v Stewart case and the fact that he has Belle, the girl his has come to love as his own, at home.
Belle herself is a strong, complicated, and interesting character. The love triangle that she finds herself into is believable and lovely to watch on screen. Furthermore, the fact that "Belle" allows movie audiences to see a woman of color in a period film who's not acting as a slave or domestic servant is groundbreaking. Her tale adds to the growing list of movies who have begun to tackle more multifaceted sides to race and slavery in history. Do go see it Hartford, here.