Movie Review: “Belle” – Go Googoo for Gugu

Written by Samah Ali June 30, 2014

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Over the past decade, several films have been released that focus on racism in North America and the revolution to freedom. What we have not seen is the historical events that stopped slavery and segregation in other parts of the world. Directed by Amma Asante, “Belle” is a moving biopic that focuses on one of the first events in Britain’s abolitionist movement. Retelling the tail of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a biracial bachelorette, the film takes an interesting perspective on slavery abolitionist with family dynamics, self-acceptance, and love.

Set in eighteenth century England, the nephew of William Murray, an aristocratic chief justice (Tom Wilkinson), reveals his illegitimate, mixed daughter. As he travels to sea and leaves the young girl, Dido Elizabeth with the family, they are caused to raise her as their own. As Dido matures, she begins to question why she does not have the same privileges as her cousin and struggles with her complexion when she becomes an eligible bachelorette. As Dido questions her family and recognizes the neglect of people like her, she ultimately aids in the decision of her uncle’s trial, the Zong Massacre.

“… How can I be too high in rank to dine with the servers but to low to dine with my family?”

Considering “Belle” is a biopic, very little was known about Dido Elizabeth besides the painting found in Kenwood House. Known as one of the first paintings to recognize a black person as an equal with an aristocrat, the painting inspired the film and provided the writer, Misan Sagay, a large framework to replicate the family dynamics at the time of the case. Given a relatively wide scope, Sagay’s screenplay is a believable, contemporary script that mimics the language and culture relevant in that time period.

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Although the plot deals with Murray’s ultimate decision with the Zong Massacre, Dido’s frustration and solitude captures the audience’s heart as she struggles with her identity throughout the film. Mbatha-Raw creates an incredible performance and portrays the deep emotions felt by Dido behind the trial. Acting as her first lead role, she overshadows the rest of the cast by demanding attention during her emotional scenes. By the end of the film, you’ll be going googoo for Gugu!

“I don’t know if I find myself anywhere.”

Since “Belle” focuses on Dido during the period of courting, the true racism is seen amongst the aristocratic community as she attempts to find a husband. Potential candidates are shut down after their racist slurs and shame are seen from their families while Dido begins to realize her situation and how people view her. She ends up falling in love with her uncle’s law apprentice, John Davinier (Sam Reid), after they have a falling out from their differing views on the trial. Exposing her to the cruelty of the world, the couple becomes a powerful force behind the case and attempt to change Murray’s out-dated opinions.

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Mbatha-Raw’s strong performance allows “Belle” to blossom into a well-acted and influential picture. The love story provided an excellent path to recount one of Britain’s historical events and fathom what was going on in the life of Dido Elizabeth at the time. Sagay’s writing produced a beautiful film that simulate real events and created a credible role in Mbatha-Raw’s filmography; definitely an unnoticed film that pushes boundaries and displays a different side of England.

Rating: 9/10

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About Samah Ali

Samah Ali

With a deep admiration for film, television, and music, Samah spends most of her free time expressing and sharing her love for the arts. Studying Creative Writing at Western University, she enjoys writing about film & music and shapes her passions with the latest movie or album available.

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