Inspired by a 1779 painting, Amma Asante’s “Belle” is about Dido Elizabeth Belle. The painting shows Belle and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, a black woman, and a white woman. Dido is a black girl and Elizabeth is a white girl. It’s the first painting to equalize and vocalize the emancipation of the black race. In such an era, slavery was so thick, especially in England. Also, the movie sets in a Zong massacre. Because of the painting, whites “save” the inferior as equal. The painting is a controversy of course where Belle is also a black girl with a noble title.
This movie is about Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle. Dido is mulatto, the result of a forbidden relationship. Matthew Goode as Captain Sir John Lindsay is the father of Dido and Maria Belle is the mother. Before leaving for sailing, Sir John Lindsay left Dido with his uncle, Tom Wilkinson as Lord Mansfield. He is Lord Chief Justice. At first, the Lord didn’t accept Dido directly as the highest legal authority. Caring for black children not only ruins the family’s image as a nobleman. It would also create controversy in the historical record.
Dido is a beloved daughter of Sir John Lindsay. It’s making the Lord willing to care for and raise Dido with his niece, Sarah Gadon as Lady Elizabeth Murray. Dido grew into a free civilized woman and live in luxury homes. Regardless of which, she must feel the degree of imbalance in the family and house. Her uncle banned her from attending the formal dinner and received “special” treatment. One day, Sam Reid as John Davinier met with Dido, the priest’s son. Dido’s interested in a case regarding the Zong case besides he is undergoing an internship.
A period drama isn’t my thing to say at least regardless I watch anything. “Barry Lyndon” is one of my favorite from the genre. Seeing the film from all points of view is so perfect besides the genre. However, one thing I love about a period drama is the accent, the costume design, and the set. Everything in a period drama is thick with love stories because it just needs manner. Speaking about romance, the period drama is nor a modern film. Romance in period drama always includes a love of class or family differences. Take for example like “Pride and Prejudice”, besides this movie also takes influence from the film.
A period drama, and romance as well, never talk about passion and lust. It’s just how the moment flows, slow, but sure way. All the characters must pay attention to gesture, characteristics, manners, and way of speaking. The way they are talking is always thick with its accents in such periods. Many you can learn with the vocabulary. I mean, films aren’t just entertainment. It’s a historical record and material. Above all, this period drama is a unique thing, to begin with.
“Belle” is not about the romance between the main heroine and the protagonist. It’s not about whatsoever romantic sentences. It’s about how romance is as romance in general. On the other hand, this movie is very dense when talking about slavery, race, and other subject matter. In essence, it’s a conventional art compare to other genres. Although, really complicated, by the way, by a lot of people when only wanting to watch the romance. Not about another subtext like this movie.
Amma Asante tried not to walk in a place for too long. The tone isn’t too dull for a period drama. Most of the story doesn’t revolve around characters. All of the characters move from one place to another, not easily dragged from one conversation to another. However, for a biopic, there is nothing to tell rather than the development of the characters. It’s so fast but enough when compared dynamically between characters. Thanks to Misan Sagay, this period drama becomes more meaningful. On the other hand, the movie focuses on the dialogue between characters. Not the main story, for instance, where it all started.
“Belle” is brilliantly well-written and well-acted yet stiff with its theme. However, Asante herself took this drama period in a conventional way and to a different level. It takes the whole thing to say like this is a movie about a person. The set perfectly crafted, the gesture, the accent, the performance, everything in this movie is bearable. Not tightly bound by its execution but still tells what this movie is.
3.5 out of 5 stars.