“Belle” – Review
“Belle” is the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, played luminously wonderful by newcomer actor Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and her real life accounts as an illegitimate bi-racial child raised in the upper crusts of England’s aristocracy during the late 1700’s. The story largely revolves around the difficulties of the established Mansfield’s family headed by Belle’s great uncle Lord Mansfield played equally wonderfully by British actor Tom Wilkinson to raise Dido as a proper English lady through the films subplot prism of England being the world’s leader in the human slave trade at that time.
“Belle” the movie is many things. On one hand it is foremost a touching and tender story of her eventual acceptance by her white biological family and their unwavering adulation and respect for her, adorning her fully of all the benefits of wealth and privilege her Mansfield’s name has achieved from many generations. It also at times a story of the scarlet shame the Dido’s family had to bare raising her as an equal and yet stumbling in the process through the occasional unfortunate need for adherence to long established social protocols and traditions, resulting in keeping Dido hidden and diminished away from public display.
Also what transpires over the 95 minute running time is a rather revealing story of the all too many political intricacies certain established English families would calculatingly maneuver within to make sure that proper marriages were arranged in order to secure future wealth, property and social standing. With Dido being assured of securing a tidy inheritance from her father, she under normal circumstances would be seen by most suitors as a highly viable candidate as a bride for the right English gentleman. Only in Dido’s case she has the unique misfortune to being born both with status and “exotically black”.
What I like most about “Belle” is that on the surface it is a relative small slice of life story that evolves from its initially diminutive tale to a story that played a very important and huge role in the dismantling and eventual abolishment of the commercial slave trade around the world. Also, Belle is an exquisitely pristine and flawlessly rich looking film to watch. It’s cinematography, from horse drawn carriages, finely tailored dresses and jewels, manicured streets and grounds, showcases Belle as a very stately and beautiful film to watch as well.
My only major complaint is the screenplay of melding Dido’s unique standing as bi-racial woman of status through the backdrop of the height of slavery was at time executed a bit clunky, choppy and at times with some confusing transitions from scene to scene leaving me wondering the relevance.
In the end “Belle” is about romance and race; status and politics. It is also a fabulously entertaining and sophisticated effort of a strong willed woman surviving somewhat isolated and away from others who looked like her, exhibiting and executing her own life’s path as best she could with an abundance of grace, elegance, dignity, compassion and strength. I found “Belle’ to be obviously beautiful, but also enduringly moving and uplifting.
3 – 3/4 Stars