Belle (12A) is the heartwarming true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral who was raised by her aristocratic great-uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson).
At a time when slavery was rife, Belle's aristocratic father enabled her to have a privileged upbringing, however, the colour of her skin prevented her from ever fitting in fully and she was not even permitted to dine with her family when they had guests over and still found herself victim of racial abuse despite her high social standing.
When Belle discovers that Lord Mansfield, a top judge at the time, is involved in a court case to do with human cargo and the awful treatment of black slaves, she enlists the help of an idealistic law student John Davinier (Sam Reid) and does everything that she can to ensure that her uncle makes the right decision.
|Mbatha-Raw is beautiful as Belle, but that is not enough|
The truth behind Belle's story is fascinating and it is only a wonder why it hasn't been adapted for the big screen sooner. The concept of a mixed race child being raised among aristocracy during a time where slavery was so normalized is incredible poignant and the differences between Belle and her white cousin of the same age, Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), are striking from the start. The girls immediate friendship and love for one another paves the way for a touching subplot, with their relationship being one of the most heartfelt aspects of the film, if slightly under-used.
The real let-down of this film is Mbatha-Raw's performance. Despite looking absolutely beautiful she is incredibly two-dimensional throughout and Belle's character seems to be lacking in depth; turning her from a strong-willed and determined young woman to a stunning yet vacant china doll. Dependent mostly on one-look, Mbatha-Raw's doe-eyed melancholy is initially endearing but becomes increasingly frustrating as time goes on and she remains unable to deliver anything new or refreshing.
The lack of depth to Belle's character makes the entire film feel slow, boring and almost like it misses the point. Director Amma Asante is entrusted with taking this great, hidden story to the forefront of the public's attention and instead of creating a show-stopping period piece that does the story justice, she created a bland, disappointing and emotionless drama that doesn't even scratch the surface of Belle's true character, least of all do her justice.
The supporting cast are strong, bar a conventional and over-the-top villainous performance from Harry Potter's Tom Felton, but none of them are enough to detract attention away from the lifeless protagonist and her inability to give anything more or less than pure apathy.
|Painting of the real life Belle and Elizabeth|
Whilst the core story is interesting, its cinematic execution is not and although Mbatha-Raw is visually stunning to watch, her beauty is not enough to excuse the lack of depth to her portrayal of Dido Elizabeth Belle. The most exciting part of the entire film was the inclusion of a painting of the real-life Belle and Elizabeth that appeared just before the credits rolled, and given that this painting is accesible via a quick google search, that is not enough to make the film worth seeing.
Belle is in UK cinemas from Friday 13th June!
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