In a beige-tinted past familiar to viewers of the classic British period drama, Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana (David Oyelowo) falls in love with white Londoner Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) causing unrest in England, Botswana and everywhere in-between. Amma Asante follows up Belle with another period drama about love, racism, and the power of one to conquer the other. Sadly this film is not as successful as her previous.
David Oyelowo gives a convincing performance as the king-in-waiting torn between the woman he loves and the country he was born to rule. It is easy to see what drew him to the role as the film provides numerous grandstanding speeches as the music swells and the camera pulls into his face. Oyelowo carefully balances the monologues and the more tender moments to create a character I could sympathise with despite his alien predicament.
On the other side of the romantic pairing is Rosamund Pike playing the overlooked sister of the overlooked sister from Downton Abbey (Laura Carmichael) and the daughter of Nicholas Lyndhurst’s character from Goodnight Sweetheart. I kid you not. Pike has a character I find harder to like; wearing an unwavering expression of worry and an air of white privilege. Knowing the strength that Pike can bring to a role it was hard to watch her play a more simpering part, though she does rally by the end.
Sadly when Pike and Oyelowo were together on-screen I felt no love between them. Their initial romance in London is rushed, and jarringly edited, so reason they are willing to cause so much political unrest never comes across. In fact the whole London segment at the start of the film, despite featuring my beloved Greenwich, is televisual and unconvincing. It is only on reaching Botswana that the film finally gets its cinematic legs. Some moments near the start of the film teeter close to parody as emotional proclamations are made in landmark locations between two characters we barely know, and who hardly know each other, and with two great actors performing below par. I breathed a sigh of relief when the film escaped the confines of London to the vistas of Botswana. Finally the camera could move.
For whatever the reason the film falters at the start and then struggles to catch up for the rest of its running time. The true story at its core might be worth telling but without a well-developed romance to justify it there’s a limit to how engaged an audience can get.
I was expecting a love story but the result was a dispassionate film with some decent performances but no real spark.