BELLE Movie Review
Belle is a period piece movie based on a historical figure. Dido Elizabeth Belle was an illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay and an enslaved woman known as Maria Belle. Dido was sent to live with John Lindsay’s uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield. She was raised as a free woman at a time when her great uncle had to make a pivotal ruling about the legitimacy of the slave trade.
Belle stars a great ensemble cast Gugu Mbatha Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle, Tom Wilkinson as William Murray and Harry Potter alum, Tom Felton. Now while this is a movie about a historical figure it plays out as more of a Pride and Prejudice knock off. As there are almost twenty years of Dido’s life untold this allows for considerable artistic license. This gives the movie a fantastic sense of authenticity while still allowing for some dramatic flare. The character of Dido is achingly beautiful, played with wonderful vulnerability by Gugu Mbatha Raw. The camera absolutely loves her, I found myself completely enthralled with her character, one part beauty tinged with a bitter sweetness that made her all the more interesting to watch. She is given a wonderful foil in the form of John Davinier(Sam Reid), an impassioned man who fights for the downtrodden, whether they are black or white. Which brings me to the historical backdrop of the movie, slavery is a booming business in Europe at this point in history and is an excellent sub-plot to set this story against.
The setting is also brilliant, the whole movie looks like a painting, lush and bright when it needs to be but it can easily reign itself in to showcase the darker elements. The dresses, the frill, the spectacle is all there just to help you immerse yourself further in this woman’s story. I said in a previous review, my review about Grace In Monaco, that this was one of the serious issues, we were given a Wikipedia interpretation of a historical event. With Belle you get the historical event with a wonderful human element which allows you to engage even more with the characters and the event they are involved in. Now with all period pieces that deal with slavery there are the usual trappings, there is the character who can’t see passed Belle’s skin colour, there is the stuffy character who finds the romance preposterous because it is against tradition and of course it wouldn’t be an inspirational period drama without a few inspirational speeches along the way. Some of the speeches are quite powerful, heartfelt and one in particular got me a little misty eyed but it slowly became just pieces of exposition.
The soundtrack is your usual whimsical frilly period soundtrack which helps push the narrative but it is nothing exceptional. The greatest element of this movie for me though was Belle, Gugu Mbatha Raw is so stunning, so full of passion and with such a wonderful reserve of strength which she taps into when she needs it. Gugu is definitely someone to watch.