The story of an African King who meets and falls in love with a British office worker is told in the middling film A United Kingdom.
Why do I use the term ‘middling’ to describe this film? Because it’ just that - middling - it goes through the motions - it tells a story like someone who is reading a book in monotone voice - there’s not much life or excitement to it.
If it wasn’t for David Oleyowo who plays Seretse Khama, ‘A United Kingdom’ would not be worth the watch. He is electrifying as Khama, a future king of African nation Bechuanaland who, while in London studying in 1947, meets plain and simple office worker Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), and they instantly fall in love (the scene where they set eyes on each other for the first time looks very staged and thereby unrealistic). But their love was not meant to be, Khama’s uncle, who was the king as Khama’s father had passed away, forbade him from marrying this pasty white woman - and she looked nothing like the women from his tribe whom Khama was expected to marry.
But there were not only problems from his side, Ruth’s father was very disappointed in her choice to date, and eventually, a black man - he didn’t approve of the relationship. But this was the least of their worries. The British government stepped in to meddle in their romance - they attempted to prevent the couple from getting married in the church fearing that their marriage would destabilise the British government’s relationship with it’s colonies in Africa. When Khama and his new bride Ruth do go back to Bechuanaland, he then returns back to the UK to get the British government to recognize his marriage, however, they then forbade him from going back to his homeland while Ruth, all alone except for the tribeswomen who eventually came around and accepted her, gives birth to their first child. Their interracial marriage was one of the first for it’s time, and for some reason not many people have heard of this historic relationship until now.
But A United Kingdom, directed by Amma Asante (Belle), tells the story like a playbook. It’s as if each scene was shot just as it was written, then the filmmakers went on to shoot the next scene, while failing miserably to make the scenes look believable and have emotion to them at all. And it’s Pike’s performance that also brings down the movie. She was excellent as the spurned girlfriend in Gone Girl, but as the romantic lead of a very important story about a love affair that almost changed the world, she just can’t carry it. She just doesn’t have the facial emotions nor the likability of a woman that a future king would risk all just because he’s in love with her. This film is based on extraordinary events, but the film itself is in no way extraordinary.