In 2016, two countries debuted two different films about interracial couples. The first, “Loving,” tells the story of Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter, whose love paved the way for legalizing interracial marriages in America. Like “Loving,” the second film, Amma Asante’s “A United Kingdom,” now playing stateside, focuses on the bond between two progressive people of different races growing up in times where their peers’ mindsets haven’t caught up. But “A United Kingdom” expands on these timely themes, demonstrating how love always packs more punch than hatred ever could.
In 1947, as the British Empire maintains some colonial control over Africa, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), heir to the throne of Bechuanaland, known today as Botswana, meets British office clerk Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) at a missionary society dance in London. The connection is instant and, after only a year of dating, they marry. Yet, for the British government, close allies with the apartheid-minded South Africa, and Seretse’s uncle back in Bechuanaland, the interracial marriage is an abomination, raining down shame on both kingdoms. As Seretse and Ruth start their married life, their homelands pull out all the horrific stops in trying to break the couple down, from smear campaigns questioning Seretse’s ruling abilities to lengthy exile and separation. But, even as the screws of societal pressures are tightened, Seretse and Ruth relentlessly continue the fight to build not only a family but also a new home.
In films as intimate as these, it is the performances that bring the action. As the first couple of what became present-day Botswana, Oyelowo and Pike add another wonderful performance to each of their repertoires. As Seretse, Oyelowo conveys how personal the film’s subject matter is for both character and actor. One half of an interracial couple himself, Oyelowo has powerful eyes that are unbelievably quick in their strong conveying of the extents of Seretse’s joy at finding “the one” and pain at being separated from his true love. After terrifying audiences as a disturbingly devious wife in 2014’s “Gone Girl,” in “A United Kingdom,” Rosamund Pike displays her acting range. Here, she’s playing a wife with a kind heart and a resolute spirit of steel. Ruth may have grown up in a time that viewed women as second-class citizens but she has a voice that refuses to be silenced. Ruth views herself as equal to her husband, and he feels the same about her.
As the aftermath of one of history’s most divisive elections continues to encourage some nasty outlooks on life, films like “A United Kingdom” are more needed and more in demand. While it isn’t afraid to show how despicable human beings can be to each other, “A United Kingdom” chooses to ultimately err on the side of love and show that, for all the danger we face in life, there’s still great beauty to be found.