Originally published on One Room With A View on October 5th 2016.
As the United Kingdom currently finds itself mid-Brexit, waking each morning to a new swathe of regressive policies targeted against Johnny Foreigner, it feels an apt time to be reminded that this country we’re apparently “getting back” was once, and perhaps still is, incorrigibly racist. It’s a shame A United Kingdom is such a feeble film with which to make that point.
This 1940s-set period drama follows the lives of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), respectively the heir apparent of Botswana and a British secretary, as they fall in love and cause diplomatic chaos. Amma Asante may be remarkable as a rare black female director, but there’s little out-of-the-ordinary in how she shoots this formulaic awards-bait. Never afraid to choose a predictable shot when a daring one would be better, Asante struggles to tell this fascinating story in an interesting way.
Asante should not bear all the blame for the film’s failings. Guy Hibbert’s script is also terrible. He delivers dialogue so hilariously on-the-nose it feels apt that a sitcom legend like Nicholas Lyndhurst gets to deliver it. Ironically for a film so keen on equality, all the characters are drawn in black and white, with no moral grey area to be found. They are either preening caricatures of racist British rule or pure icons of progressive morality.
Thank God, then, for David Oyelowo. Surely one of the finest actors in the world right now, he delivers a sensitive performance full of oratory almost as skilful as his Oscar-worthy role playing Martin Luther King Jr.
Oyelowo and Pike are superb, but everything else about this film feels desperately formulaic. A United Kingdom is the kind of film where everyone is unforgivably racist until suddenly they’re not. It’s a story that deserves far more nuance than that.