As someone who wasn’t quite sure of what to expect from Belle, the film proved itself to be a pleasant surprise, offering a view of the problems presented to mixed race individuals born during the time of the slave trade.
The story followed the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed-race girl born to nobility in slavery-ensnared England. Her mother was born a slave, while her father was Admiral Sir John Lindsay, which left Dido’s social standing in a precarious position. By birthright, she was entitled to be raised as a Lady, but by skin color would never fully bone particular note that stood out was that although the film takes place during the English slave trade, and the backdrop to Belle’s story was the case of the Zong slave ship massacre, we never actually saw any slaves. The film very much focused on Belle’ s upbringing and path to self-acceptance within a society that generally wouldn’t see past the color of her skin.
Although her family brought her up as proper English lady alongside her cousin Elizabeth, Belle was constantly reminded of how she didn’t quite belong, be it her family’s refusal to let her dine with them when guests were present, to Belle not being allowed to ‘come out’ into society, as her cousin would (she was instead offered the keys to the house, which was basically a sign of being an old maid who would never marry). The most disturbing scene took place within the privacy of Belle’s own room when she became visibly upset at herself for the one thing she could never change, her color.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw was a delight to watch as the intelligent, strong willed title character. At times her facial expressions and wide-eyed innocent looks put me in the mind of Keri Washington and the chemistry with both suitors was believable (although you can immediately tell which one she’ll end up with when both are introduced). It was a joy to watch Belle’s character evolve throughout the course of the film and I’ m excited to see where Gugu’s career takes her next.
Miranda Richardson (yes, Rita Skeeter was in the film) and Tom Felton (yes,Draco Malfoy was in the film too) were equally despicable as mother and son. Both actors definitely have that ‘make you want to wring their character’s necks’ thing down to a tea given that they’ve played their fair share of baddies, and they won’t disappoint here either.
The film maintained a nice balance of addressing the social injustices that were in place during the time period while injecting moments of comedic relief. You’ll definitely giggle more than once. (Keep an eye on Penelope Wilton’s Lady Murray for some great moments). This film is certainly one I’d recommend checking out, and this is coming from a person who isn’t the most intrigued by historically-based films. Just be sure to keep in mind that the movie is based on a true story, and although many details of Belle’s life were represented correctly, nothing beats doing your own research and learning the real history behind the painting.
Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Films