Movie review: Belle (PG)
Drama. Starring gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Sam Reid, Sarah Gadon, Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson, James Norton, Tom Felton, Matthew Goode. Directed by Amma Assante.
Roughtly based on true events 'Belle' tells the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (a luminous Gugu Mbatha-Raw in a career-making role), the illegitimate daughter of a Royal Navy captain (Matthew Goode) and a slave who was given a large inheritance and sent to live with senior judge Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson) until problems of race and class began to arise once she reached her early 20s.
On the surface 'Belle' would appear to be a difficult dramatic fit: if you began to think of it as '12 Years In a Jane Austen Novel' you wouldn't be too far wide of the mark, but it all comes together remarkably well.
The story has some very pertinent points to make about the rights of women in the late 18th Century, brings in the debate about the morality of slavery and throws a compelling courtroom drama into the mix for good measure.
The film is helped enormously by the quality of the cast (Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson and Miranda Richardson - come on!) and two standout performances from Mbatha-Raw as the title character and an eye-catching turn from James Norton as the downright nasty Oliver Ashford, a potential suitor of Belle's childhood companion, Lady Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon).
The direction from Amma Assante is perfectly judged and impeccably paced and the result is a film which is very easy on the eye but has a lot to say for itself without beating the viewer over the head with a "message".