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'Belle' review: A mild and lovely biopic

Gugu Mbatha-Raw at the premiere of "Belle."
Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

Belle (2014)


Hiding amongst the summer blockbusters of the season, “Belle” is a historical drama about an inspirational, biracial woman that helped motivate a change in perspective on race. Dido Elizabeth Belle is famously depicted in a painting along her cousin as an equal, a significant event portrayed in the film.

After her mother’s death, young Dido Elizabeth Belle (Lauren Julien-Box) is picked up by her father, Captain John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), and deposited at the home of his uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson). Raised alongside her blonde and fair cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) does not know her place as she is above dining with the servants but is not permitted to eat with dinner guests. As her uncle investigates an insurance case over drowned slaves, Dido learns to be proud of the color of her skin as she begins to see how others, especially young men, respond to it. Dido is faced with blatant racism from Lady Ashford (Miranda Richardson) and son James (Tom Felton) but receives more positive attention from Oliver Ashford (James Norton) and a vicar’s son, John Davinier (Sam Reid).

“Belle” is a pretty standard period piece; the acting is appropriate, the costumes are exquisite, and a piece of history is exposed. However, the film is not exceptional. A sophomore film for director Amma Asante, “Belle” doesn’t embrace the romance of the story it hints at nor does it have a powerful message; it’s a safe history with no ambiguity, no challenges Dido faces except a surprisingly limited amount of intentional racism. The only brave statement the film makes is to compare women to slaves, as men’s property with no rightful value without a worthy husband.

A safe choice for anyone unsure of which movie to see, “Belle” will not offend, though it might bore. Tom Felton’s fans will be excited to see that he’s once again his standard, bullying antagonist. There is nothing unexpected or new, but the acting and costume designs should keep the audience’s attention.

Rating for “Belle:” B-

For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.

“Belle” is playing at a limited amount of theatres in Columbus (AMC Lennox, Drexel, Marcus Crosswoods and Pickerington) and will also start playing at AMC Easton on Friday. For showtimes, click here.

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