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PBIFF movie review: 'Belle'

Belle movie poster
Fox Searchlight Pictures



Have you ever seen a movie trailer that did not make the movie look good, but you end up seeing it and the movie turns out to be a decent picture? Usually the opposite is what occurs more often. This year's opening night movie for the 19th Annual Palm Beach International Film Festival was "Belle" and it is now playing in theaters around all South Florida. If you read a description of the movie, it sound like it is going to be a boring period piece. As it turns out, the movie was pretty interesting, filled with a cast that kept you engaged throughout the picture.

"Belle" is based on a true story. It takes place in England and is about Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral who gets raised by her aristocratic great-uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) during the 18th Century when England still had slaves. While Belle was considered "high born", she could not participate in all family matters as her race was still looked down on during that period of time.

Even my description does not make "Belle" sound like an edge of your seat adventure. It's not, it's a drama and unless you are a bigoted police commissioner from Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, you will probably find it interesting too, mostly through the performances of Mbatha-Raw and the supporting cast around here that includes Emily Watson, Tom Felton and Miranda Richardson.

Credit director Amma Asante for not turning Belle into a sympathetic character. Audiences can empathize her plight, but Belle is strong minded, so we never feel, "poor, Belle." She takes on her adversity head on and we see what is put in front of her is quite considerable. Clearly there are people who see her as "beneath them." How she rises above that is what makes this journey worthwhile taking.

There is a famous painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle of her posing with her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. What made this painting so unique was that the two ladies are painted on an equal eye level, unheard of when this painting was commissioned. It's fascinating to learn that Belle probably had a profound affect on the history of England, yet until recently, no one really knew of her. It's time many of us did. It is rated PG for thematic elements, some language and brief smoking images.