An illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral (Matthew Goode) is brought to England and raised by her aristocratic great-uncle and aunt, Lord & Lady Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson) at a time when racial prejudices and bigotry ran high. As Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) grows up, she struggles to find her place in the world and looks to change society’s perception of her, whilst dealing with the romantic advances of two eligible suitors.
London-born director Amma Asante’s impressive 18th century period-piece is a joy to watch and really should have been released towards the end of the year when drama plays a bigger role in cinemas. It’s a fascinating, true tale that occasionally takes artistic licence with its subject, but paints a very telling picture of one of this country’s most intriguing chapters in history.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw shines in this heartfelt story and deserves all of the praise for making this so watchable. Her performance is the perfect balance of strength and fragility and she holds your attention throughout. The romantic element also works very well with Sam Reid and James Norton both vying for her affections.
Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson lend the story their considerable gravitas as Lord & Lady Mansfield. Harry Potter’s nemesis Tom Felton is brilliant as the boo-hiss villain of the piece whilst Miranda Richardson, Matthew Goode, Penelope Wilton and Sarah Gadon all hand in great supporting turns.
Belle is an enjoyable and thoroughly engrossing interpretation of a pivotal time in British society. The story is shot gloriously and soaks up all that classic ambience of a good English period-drama to craft a movie that delights and educates in equal measure. In a summer of loud bangs and big bucks, it’s nice to have a drama that isn’t afraid to go against the grain.