I first heard about this film through somebody saying it was one of a very small amount released this year that passed the Bechdel test. This means that two female characters in the film talk to each other about something other than a man. For a film that is set in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and one of the female character’s main concern is finding a man to marry, I find this quite odd.
(Loosely) based on a real story, Dido Elizabeth Belle was the daughter of an English Admiral and an African slave. She was sent to live with her great-uncle, who also happened to be Lord Chief Justice, at a crucial time in legislation of the slave trade. Belle married John Davinier (portrayed in the film as an up-and-coming lawyer; in real life he was a gentleman’s steward). In the film Belle and Davinier fall in love after he teaches her about the slave trade she has been sheltered from hearing about. Both then set out to convince the Lord Chief Justice to rule against a company viewing the people on the slave ships as cargo.
I didn’t realise until afterwards that a lot of this is fictional, but it doesn’t matter to me. The story was a good one, it made for a lot of dramatic tension and interesting speeches. I liked the way the film undermined the superiority of the British as well: the only reason why the country was so rich was because they exploited people and kept people as slaves, doing their dirty work. A lot of people here seemingly would like to see a return to those days, ignoring the fact that to have that level of finery, people must be treated badly somewhere. I think that all historical films are more of an account of the period in which they were filmed, rather than the actual period that they portray. This film is no different. I feel it spoke to today’s society very much. A lot of our laws are so historical and outdated; a lot of people are prejudiced today (perhaps especially behind backs).
Another thing I liked was the friendship between Belle and Elizabeth. They were honest with each other, laughed together, knew each other very well. When Belle warned Elizabeth about a suitor who was horrible to her, Elizabeth didn’t end up hating her as she would have in a lot of films. I thought their relationship was genuine and you don’t see that in many films. Also the suitor Elizabeth liked was Tom Felton (aka Malfoy from Harry Potter), so I didn’t know why they thought he would be anything other than evil.
There was a lot of good acting in this film. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle) and Sam Reid (Davinier) had amazing chemistry. Miranda Richardson played Lady Ashford, a horrible woman, very well. Also I loved the script. I really am quite fond of this film; it is an intelligent and compassionate movie that deserves a wide audience.