A United Kingdom – Movie Review
Rating: B- (Okay)
Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures
It is not so much for a film to have an important subject matter. If a film chooses to tackle it, it should dig into the why and how. A United Kingdom certainly attempts that, but by trying to focus on a lot of information at once, it barely scratches the surface. For a film about two people in love trying desperately to not let prejudice keep them apart, there are large chunks of it where they do not share screen time. The audience never truly gets to know them as important figures or even as lovers. The film just wants to showcase the bullet points.
The first act in which Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams meet and fall in love should be pivotal. However, the script rushes through the early parts of their romance, so they can quickly get married and move together to Africa. That Cliff Notes approach to the story runs through the entire film. Important historical points like the apartheid in South Africa and an oil company operating in Botswana are quickly mentioned and then don’t play a major role in the story. It seems like the screenplay wanted to give us the entire story, but there is not enough time to develop everything in a two hour movie.
That’s not necessarily the fault of director Amma Asante. She takes a fairly traditional approach to the material and one can imagine it would be better suited to a mini-series. It’s difficult not to compare A United Kingdom to Jeff Nichols’s recent film about a landmark interracial marriage, Loving. The beauty of that film was that the focus was heavily on the two leads just trying to live their life, while the lawyers and court case that allowed them to live in their state of choice was more in the background. A United Kingdom did not have to follow that exact template, but every plot point feels underdeveloped because it wants to tell too much.
David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike manage to rise above the screenplay, credited to Guy Hibbert, and their scenes together are sweet. The film does not show their struggle as much as it should. However, when they are allowed to exhibit some form of chemistry, they work well together. Everyone else is saddled with fairly typical antagonists common in films tackling this subject matter. Jack Davenport is merely directed to be smarmy and sound slimy whilst giving a cocky smile. Tom Felton has been stuck in Draco Malfoy mode since he started playing that role sixteen years ago and that continues in A United Kingdom.
There is little denying the historical importance of Williams and Khama’s marriage, but A United Kingdom is a disappointing depiction of it. There is too much of an attempt to cram everything into a manageable runtime and the character development suffers for it. Maybe a longer cut exists that gives proper time to every plot point. This attempt to throw every conceivable historical footnote into a true life story is better served for a three hour epic or a multi-part mini-series. There should have been a bigger focus on the love story and showing how these two people connected, fell in love and aided each other in being accepted in Botswana. Unfortunately, this script merely skims through all of that.