Shortly after World War II, a young man and a young woman notice each other at a missionary society dance in London. Their romance, begun on a shared love of dancing and jazz, may sound ordinary—except that the young man was Seretse Khama, the future king of Bechuanaland (modern-day Botswana). The young woman, Ruth Williams, was a white British office clerk.
When Seretse and Ruth began dating in England, they experienced the effects of racism as people insulted them on the street for being together. Ruth’s father was opposed to their marriage. But after they married, they experienced a whole new level of difficulty when Seretse returned to Bechuanaland with his new wife in tow.
Seretse and Ruth Khama were not accepted in his homeland—his uncle, the king, was against the marriage. At the same time, apartheid was gaining a stranglehold in neighboring British colony South Africa. The politics of race were intertwined with the struggle for power between colonials and indigenous people.
On top of that, the riches under the surface of the land were beginning to be discovered, and everyone wanted the rights to whatever mining turned up.
Seretse and Ruth make their way through each challenge, showing humility and honor to their neighbors and fighting for the right of self-rule for their country. They draw strength from each other in hard times.
David Oyelowo (Selma) always brings strength and depth to his roles, and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) shows a warmer side in her turn as Ruth. Director Amma Assante, whose previous film Belle was also a period drama dealing with issues of race and power, delivers another stately, powerful, and well-crafted film.
A United Kingdom offers gorgeous visuals of Botswana, the romance and marriage of committed and resilient partners, and a look at the origins of one of Africa’s most successful democracies. On disc and streaming now. (Fox Searchlight)