A United Kingdom stars Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo as Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams. One, an heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), the other, an insurance clerk from England. The couple meet at a missionary club in London, fall madly in love, marry, and move to Bechuanaland. Only for their marriage to spark uproar there. It is 1948, the year when apartheid in South Africa was rife and the country could already feel the control of Britain. The idea of a white queen was not appealing.
I watched this film at Soho Hotel’s screening last night. Rosamund Pike was there to give a Q & A as the credits rolled, talking us through the reason why she came on board as Ruth. Was it the story? The need to get this tale out to the public and remind us of an important piece of history we otherwise might not have heard of?
It wasn’t necessarily the historical concept that drew her in, she explained. But the love story. The willingness of Ruth to drop her life in London and move to a country she had no idea about. The sacrifice she made in leaving her family and ‘disappointing’ her father. The effort to immerse herself in a new culture. All for a man she loved. We can learn lessons from her, Pike smiles. The fact that she just… said…yes.
As an audience member, you can see that the emphasis on this tale of love is the reason why the film is such a huge success. No matter how great, how historical, how grand a film is; without a connection to the characters, a root to the relationships, a reason why they are doing what they doing, it goes over my head. Pike and Oyelowo as Ruth and Seretse, had undeniable chemistry. We follow them through trials and tribulations of being separated through banishment, having a baby, and in their general struggle against racism. It’s something that can touch each one of us and draw us in.
This is not to undermine the film’s historical importance. It goes without saying that this story needs to be told. As a History graduate, I am sad I didn’t know it already. So this is why we thank you, Amma Asante. For bringing it back to the forefront, for casting these actors as the title roles to teach us, for reminding us of the importance of the past.
Please go and see this film when it comes out on 25th November. There are also wildly funny moments that provide some light relief, making it even more touching. You must see it. It’s a history lesson after all.