‘A United Kingdom,” much like “Hidden Figures,” takes a look at a significant historical moment that has not been given the attention it deserves. Unlike “Hidden Figures,” “A United Kingdom” has the added bonus of a beautiful story that celebrates the power of love.
The production looks at the real events of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), the King of Botswana, who in 1947 married Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a London office worker. Both the British and South African governments object to this union, but even more concerning is that the marriage could cost the king his position.
Guy Hibbert’s script beautifully weaves together all of the political turmoil with the sweet love story. One moment, Khama is worried his decision will lead to an invasion by a neighboring country, and the next moment he’s dealing with the anguish of being kept from seeing his newborn daughter.
It would have been easy for one of these plot threads to strangle the other, but the crisp writing, strong direction by Amma Asante plus Oscar-worthy performances by Oyelowo and Pike make each story support the other. There’s such a perfect balance that this film can be seen either as a political drama or a love story.
Pike, who has the kind of timeless beauty that makes her a natural fit for this role, turns in one of the best performances of her career, including her Oscar-nominated work in “Gone Girl.” She’s compelling to watch whether she’s playing a young woman who has finally found love or a wife suffering with the scorn of a nation.
A real test of an actor’s skills comes when there is no dialogue. They have only facial expressions and body language in their arsenal. Pike handles such a moment with brilliant grace and power in a scene when Ruth is finally accepted by the people of Botswana.
Her work gets even stronger when Pike is working with Oyelowo. Every scene he’s in resonates with the pain and passion his character is feeling. He finds that middle ground between carrying himself like royalty while coming across as a common man.
Asante accents the acting with a smart cinematography. All of the moments that take place in London are set against a dark and gloomy sky while the moments in Africa are bright and brilliant. You can feel the massive difference between the two locations.
A movie can look good but fail because of a lack of heart. That’s not the case here as this real story unfolded decades ago but the race issues are just as fresh. The difference is that “United Kingdom” shows that bigotry comes in a variety of colors.
Despite the story of Khama and Williams making headlines, the story has faded into the blur of the past. If for no other reason than to show the ugliness of bigotry, this is a film that should be viewed – like “Hidden Figures” – by all.