“…a nation without a past is a lost nation, and a people without a past is a people without a soul” Seretse Khama
Director Amma Assante (2013’s Belle), working from a script penned by Guy Hibbert, gives us A United Kingdom; based on the true story of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Middle of Nowhere) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike, The World’s End, Jack Reacher) who met in post World War II London. Seretse was there finishing his college studies in preparation to become the King of Bechuanaland while Ruth works as a clerk for Lloyd’s of London. Ruth’s sister Muriel (Laura Carmichael, Madame Bovary) talks Ruth into accompanying her to a missionary’s dance where Seretse and Ruth meet.
After a whirlwind courtship, and with full knowledge that Seretse’s uncle Tshekedi Khama (Vusi Kunene, Cry, the Beloved Country) will not react well to news that Seretse plans to marry a white woman; they marry without telling him. When the couple arrives at Seretse’s home village of Serowe, his uncle is there and they have a confrontation. Tshekedi provokes a confrontation at a tribal meeting known as a kgotla but the people support Seretse’s claim to the throne.
Then the British government, in the form of “Sir Alistair Canning” (Jack Robertson, Pirate Radio) who is the British government representative in South Africa becomes a factor in the ongoing drama. They call for an investigation into Sereste’s claim to the throne based on Tshekedi’s opposition. The fact that South Africa borders Bechaunaland and has instituted apartheid motivates the British government to intervene. The British, economy still in recovery after the war, is dependent on South Africa. Eventually, Seretse is exiled from Bechaunaland for five year.
With Seretse in London and Ruth still in Serowe, they discover she is with child. Seretse’s sister Nalida (Terry Pheto, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) is by Ruth’s side. That is very interesting considering her first words to Ruth when the newlyweds arrived in Serowe.
The best hope for the couple to be reunited is the upcoming Parliamentary elections. Winston Churchill goes on the record saying that if he is elected, he will allow Seretse to go home. When he wins, everyone is overjoyed. Briefly. Rather than being allowed to journey back to Bechuanaland, Seretse’s five year banishment is made permanent. He must find a way to get the ban overturned.
The main cast, to use a Trumpism, is bigly outstanding. David Oyelowo nails the charismatic nature of a man who was born to lead; able to inspire a large crowd or a small gathering with equal effectiveness. Rosamund Pike is also terrific as the woman who initially gave up everything to be with the love of her life. Amma Asante uses the stunning scenery of Africa to great effect. She also used music to enhance rather than create emotional reaction which is a rare treat.
While based on a true story, some poetic license is taken. The real Seretse Khama was not king of the entire nation of Bechuanaland, but leader of one of the eight principal tribes of the nation (the Bamangwato). The timeline is compressed in places and what happens to Seretse’s uncle after the initial confrontation between them was changed.
A United Kingdom opened initially in Los Angeles and New York City. Don’t miss it when it moves into more theaters.