“A United Kingdom”

At the start of ” A United Kingdom”, which is based on a true story, magnetic attraction between Ruth Williams ( Rosamund Pike) and Seretse Karma ( David Oyelowo) fills the screen. This is a romance which begins in 1947 London and  has political and racial impact abroad.

Seretse has been studying at Oxford when he sees Ruth at a Mission Society Dance. Their attraction at first sight is as enjoyable to watch as the dialogue written be Guy Hibbert is to mimick. This mixed-raced coupling shows jazz as the shared interest, and Seretse  “doesn’t trust Englishmen to play it”. He would be smart not to trust them for anything else either.

At first unbeknownst to Ruth, Seretse’s degree is to prepare him as heir to his tribal throne. One-hundred-and-twenty-one thousand inhabitants of Bechuanaland await his regal return. As a British protectorate, Bechuanaland ( now Botswana) borders South Africa. South African apartheid philosophy will never sanction a black- white marriage, let alone a mixed royal King and Queen.

What are the British Prime Minister and the Foreign Office to do?  They have economic interests in South Africa: gold and uranium. Watching the diplomatic antics of power gone awry is what gives this film depth. The imperial British never disappoint in colonial  condescension.

As a love story, “A United Kingdom” is superb. As a political cautionary tale, it affirms ” follow the money”. As a interracial romance, it is not as inspiring as this year’s “Loving”, but very close. Seretse tells Ruth that he will never achieve anything there (in Africa) if he leaves his heart here ( in London).

Family on both sides do little to support the couple. Seretse’ s uncle and surrogate father berates him not to “belittle his kingdom”. Ruth’s father ( Nicholas Lyndhurst) threatens to banish her if she weds Khama. ” You leave us with a life of insults.” “How many wives do you think he has?”

In Africa , neither Seretse’s uncle and nor sister support the couple. “How long before village dust gets in her eyes?”  ” You insult us all. Let him go.” Ruth and Seretse may have misjudged the hardship of their situation,but their sacrifice and mastery of themselves keep them from “being pawns in someone else’s game.”

Enjoy how the press plays an important role in preserving democracy, and the apt and timely quote: ” Not everyone is proud of what their government does on their behalf.”

Real archival photos at the film’s end, may have you looking for the 1949 secret Harrington Report. There is a lot more to this story than romance and power. Politics and the press are keenly balanced, and “A United Kingdom” is a timely historical recap.