It’s your classic love story. Girl meets boy. Girl and boy go on a date. Girl and boy fall in love and get engaged. There’s just one small hitch.
Boy is the heir to the throne of Bechuanaland, a state in South Eastern Africa peopled by the Bamangwato, and this relationship has just become of international significance for the British and South African government. Ruth Williams, played by Rosamund Pike, works as an office worker in post-war London. She falls in love with law student and king-to-be Seretse Khama, played by British-Nigerian actor David Oyelowo. After their marriage, the two move to Bechuanaland to begin their married life together there.
The film is a beautifully shot, injected with the idealism of the anti-apartheid movement and the strength of a couple’s young love mixed with the murky world of post-war politics in London and sun soaked Bechuanaland. The two act as our focal point for the film around which all the other elements carefully orbit. Those elements are wide and diverse: discussions around postcolonialism, understandings of Britain’s post-war status, the issues of racism in the 1950s and deeper questions around the identity of the Bamangwato, their past and their future.
The film is a personal triumph for director Amma Asante. A female British director of Ghanian heritage, she has a particular talent for mixing the political with the personal and vice versa. In the United Kingdom, she manages to do this and more, pulling in deeply private moments into the reality of political decisions. Oyelowo excels as Seretse Khama, bringing together the passionate idealism that marked Khama’s life with intense personal pain at being so far away from his wife. Pike struggles at the beginning of the film with what is quite a flat character, but as Ruth builds her confidence, so Pike’s performance improves, crescendoing to a remarkable performance.
The film marks another important work that has been produced over the past decade that focuses on either apartheid or the United States colour-bar, but also highlights the guilt of historical figures who many typically believe to be above such supporting racist governments. Such as Clement Attlee who ensures to keep Seretse and Ruth apart to appease South Africa. Yet the film also questions the future of Bechuanaland and of Africa itself. exploring how to create democratic states, freed from the imperialist, that are able to control the use of their resources against huge international businesses looking to seize raw materials. Important questions that are still relevant today, meaning this film is very much worth your time.