– Spoiler Alert! –
Belle is the periodic drama story of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the daughter of a Royal British Navy officer and a black woman. When her mother dies (Dido is then four years old), her father takes her to live with his uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice (played by Tom Wilkinson), and his wife, Elizabeth (played by Emily Watson), who live at Kenwood house, outside London. She grows up with her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray (played by Sarah Gadon) and they are as close as sisters.
The main axis of the story is the court case in which insurers refuse to pay out for slaves thrown overboard the ship Zong, presumably because they were diseased. An apprentice lawyer, John Davinier (played by Sam Reid), is vehemently against the maltreatment of slaves and the whole inhumanity of it. He is so stubborn in his fight against slavery that he loses his apprenticeship with Lord Mansfield.
Dido meets John during his initial stay at the house. At first they don’t get along very well. When both realise the other’s intentions, they fall for each other, but status keeps them apart.
As both girls, Dido and Elizabeth, come of age to marry, the two find themselves in want for a husband. However, Elizabeth’s father doesn’t acknowledge her as first born, promising his estate to his new wife’s son, leaving her penniless. When Dido’s father dies, he leaves her with a very generous inheritance, making her a good ‘catch,’ but the drawback is that she’s ‘black.’
The tension rises as the plot drives to the pivot point where Lord Mansfield needs to make up his mind whether he keeps the status quo or changes the world.
The painting of Dido and Elizabeth. It’s hanging in Scone Palace, Scotland.
I must admit I didn’t think I was going to like this movie, but it had me in tears. The love between John Divinier and Dido was portrayed beautifully. Even though the story is old (it plays in 1783, years before slavery is abolished in the British Empire in 1807), the drive of it is still valid, now more than ever. We can change the world as long as we are willing to make a difference and stand up for our believes. No person is less valuable than others (George Orwell’s Animal Farm comes to mind) and love shouldn’t be held back by status.
What I thought strange was that they chose ‘Belle’ as the title, even though throughout the whole movie she is called Dido. Possibly they wanted to prevent a confusion with the singer’s name. The costumes were beautiful, the locations magnificent, the music very well chosen. I loved the language they spoke, the old English is so very romantic.
I liked the movie because it is a true, albeit romanticised, story of love and perseverance. Writer Misan Sagay and director Amma Asante did a marvellous job. You can watch this one with your kids (no handky panky at all in this one, only one suggested move) and have a good discussion afterwards about ‘ownership’ of other human beings (and by this I mean not only slaves, but also women as wives) and about love between people of different rank and race. There are quite a few characters who’s actions and words can be discussed.
I wanted to give it a 9/10 score, but I’d have liked to see a bit more action in it for that, so 8/10 it is 🙂 .