Monday, November 10, 2014

Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)


As it seems Gugu Mbatha-Raw is about to blow up, given her high marks & great reviews coming out of Beyond The Lights (also starring Nate Parker, Minnie Driver and Danny Glover), which hits theaters this week November 14, 2014, I humbly review the film that introduced me to this up-and-coming ebony movie maiden... WINNER: BEST ACTRESS, British Independent Film Awards 2014

A Lovely Film*
In the realm of Pride & Prejudice or Sense & Sensibility, Belle is a tale of lost & found in love and life. Belle is inspired by the true story of a biracial woman (white father, black mother) growing up in slave trading hub England, and who is raised in aristocracy while being excluded from it, thus, struggling to find her place in society. While clearly focused on the life experiences of this one girl, Belle is somehow a universal tale of finding oneself as well as a different cinematic angle on slavery.  This film will obviously stir political discussion upon viewing, here, I'd rather talk about performance, because this movie is full of robust theatrical charm.
Not to be confused with Disney's princess Belle

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido is not only visually stunning but theatrically breathtaking. Even when she is still, you can see her mind and emotions running a mile a minute as her eyes are incredibly expressive.  This talent is crucial since she portrays a woman navigating a time when restraint was key to acceptance and advancement in a girl's social life.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw was a revelation. And, yes, in the movie her name is Dido.  The reason behind her name is clear in the movie, but the writer-director Amma Assante has explained that Belle comes from the girl's late mother's name and the title is a tribute to her.  (Fun Fact: Belle was also originally going to be called Belle & Bette, for reasons made clear in the movie, but I am actually glad for the one word/one name moniker to keep the audience focused with so many issues whirling in the story.)

Tom Wilkinson as Papa was moving as a struggling soul in this piece as he represented the turbulent political climate into which Belle was born. With the looming "Zong case," he also represented every parent's struggle: how do you explain to children the horrors of this world? and is explaining accepting?

Amma Asante's direction and Ben Smithard's cinematography are reminiscent of The Queen and Starz! series The White Queen as this pair play with frame and light and focus to drive us from one thought to another by utilizing every eye flutter, swallow and incline of the head for each character.  As much of the story is told through Dido's eyes as it is through her aunt's smirks, her suitors' dropped jaws, her cousin's hands, the servant's slow gait, etc.  I rarely see so much sharing of the screen, it's refreshing. Some of the best moments were silent.
Dido is a female heroine without guns/whips/boxing skills/acrobatics, but with gripping wit in a socio-political nightmare (hey, kind of reminds me of Juno! - aahhh classic).  I ran to see this movie in my local indie theater.  I recommend it highly, especially if you care to see a comparison leading effort from Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

*The original review was first published on IMDb. This is an updated version.

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