MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By Fox Searchlight
Directed by Amma Asante. Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson.
For those folks who are interested in a film about slavery that is not as guilt-inducing as 12 Years a Slave, as brutal as Amistad, as long as Roots, or as fact-based as Amazing Grace, here is your movie: the family-friendly Belle.
The film begins with a scene of a naval officer, Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), escorting a little girl to live with his uncle and aunt, Lord (Wilkinson) and Lady (Emily Watson) Mansfield. Sir John is the father of the child and her mother is deceased. John has to return to military service and knows that his relatives will take good care of her. The girl’s name is Dido Elizabeth Belle and she grows up to become a young lady (Mbatha-Raw) and best friend to her cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon).
Because this is the 1700s and racism and slavery are still very much alive and well, having a biracial member of the family forces everyone to think more inclusively about things. Lord Mansfield is Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and will become involved in a court ruling following a nautical tragedy in which 142 slaves perished at sea on the slave ship Zong. This trial (which comes later in the film) is the most interesting part of the film. There are no reenactments of the tragedy, but the court deliberations do a good job of explaining things and sharing this important part of history, a precursor to England’s eventual abolishment of slavery.
Until we get to the trial, however, we have a standard “chick flick” with a beautiful woman being courted by John Davinier, a handsome suitor (Sam Reid) who is a vicar’s son and able to accept her and look beyond the color of her skin to see the classically educated and extraordinarily beautiful person that she really is. The evil guy trying to mess up things is James Ashford (played by none other than Harry Potter’s nemesis Draco Malfoy – Tom Felton).
Belle is well acted, beautifully filmed and ends with a haunting image of racial equality. It is also bland and corny. In other words, it is good comfort food.
Which, of course, is my main problem with the movie. The evils of slavery deserve more attention than to serve as the backdrop to a conventional romantic film. But, if you are getting tired of superheroes and gross-out comedies, this may possibly be your best bet this summer.
Four halos: An old-fashioned historical romance, with an interesting 18th century court case thrown into the mix.
One pitchfork: For some mild racial epithets.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
COMMENTS! Do you have comments about this movie or movie review?
E-mail comments. (Comments will be posted to our web site.)
The East Ohio Conference Office:
located in North Canton, OH.
near the Akron-Canton airport.
8800 Cleveland Ave. NW ·
North Canton, OH 44720
Toll Free: 800-831-3972
Office Hours: Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
©2016 EAST OHIO CONFERENCE. All Rights Reserved.