Leave Out ‘Interracial’, This Narrative is at Just A Love Story

“It was the image on the cover that arrested me”, says David Oyelowo, co-star alongside Rosamund Pike in this year’s London Film Festival’s opening day offering: A United Kingdom. He is talking about the cover of “Colour Bar”, a 2007 book charting the interracial union of love across geographic and sociopolitical boundaries, the relationship between Ruth Williams and first president-come-heir apparent of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama. Amma Asante (Belle, 2013) takes this striking tale of empire-toppling love as inspiration for her newest cinematic adaptation; one which, she insists, is at its heart a story about love.

With a rich colour-palette that starkly shifts between gelid London tints and saturated Botswana tones, the narrative of union over division is baked deep into the fabric of the film. It is fundamentally a film of unity’s triumph: of love over the increasingly outdated institutions of racial discrimination and geo-political prejudices. In an industry landscape slowly – though unacceptably slowly – increasing its support for minority directors and female directors (lest we mistakenly bracket the latter under the former), it might just be a triumph of unity in a broader, societal sense; of intelligence over prejudice, of fellow-feeling over political agenda.

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We caught up with the cast, the film’s director Amma Asante, and London Film Festival Clare Stewart on the day of A United Kingdom’s London Film Festival premiere to hear their thoughts on the show in the midst of its festival tour …

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On portraying the “villains”, the embodiment of the British Empire…

Jack Davenport: There’s a danger that the people who embody the Empire could be a bit moustache-twirling. You can see our characters are at times a little unsure about things. They do sense that change is in the air, and you see them using this manual that is becoming increasingly out of date. No-one made this up, this actually happened, so hopefully it wasn’t too “pantomime”.

Tom Felton: I don’t see these people as villains … they’re just by-products of what the system entailed at the time. Really it’s fear they’re working on. Fear that generations of hard work of their ancestors is going to go to waste, and the world will turn on its head. And Amma has a wonderful ability to do that. For me it shows a great way in which the shift happened, almost overnight.

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On keeping Seretse and Ruth’s human relationship foregrounded and compelling in a politically rich film…

Amma Asante: “Theirs is a three-dimensional life. If you’re really approaching this couple as a pair of three-dimensional human beings, laughter has to be a part of it. … my first thought on seeing the script was that nothing in this story should come without first passing through the prism of the couple’s love … and against the very strong backdrop of politics.

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On shooting a romance …

Amma Asante: I tried to stay true to my belief that if you’re trying to tell a story about love, it shouldn’t be just about romantic love. It’s also about paternal love, a man’s love for his country, and the woman he has fallen in love with has fallen in love with his country. So the love is multi-layered, and we must ensure that everything comes through the prism of one of these types of love.

On shooting on location:

David Oyelowo: The heat is really the main reason why you want to be showing on location. It’s a part of the story. It’s part of what the characters are gaining and giving up. We went from those ridiculous, hot temperatures to shooting in London [at -3 degree cold]; … Amma wore lots of hats.

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On shooting a film ‘about race’…

Rosamund Pike: At the moment this film isn’t put in a bracket with other love stories, it’s put in a bracket with 12 Years a Slave, or Selma. Really, this should just be seen in the canon of love stories, and the characters – or the colour of their skin – should be seen as irrelevant.

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On the film’s perfect fit with London Film Festival…

Clare Stewart: It is a story very much for these times, of love triumphing over intolerance … it is also an important film for London: it tells a very London story as well as a very African story, and we celebrate, I think, one of the UK’s most distinctive and important film makers in Amma Asante.

Amma Asante: As i stand here today, what you see is the particular intersection of being black, and female, and also British … I want to thank Clare and the festival for facilitating another glass ceiling in being broken. In this year the festival will highlight and platform and celebrate the international contribution of black artists and filmmakers over the many years of film’s existence, in spite of having to do so within an industry that still does not fully reflect that it exists in.

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