When Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) and Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) met and fell in love in 1947, they knew their families would disapprove of the union. Yet they probably didn’t expect to find the full weight of national governments conspiring against them. She was a white Londoner working as an office clerk, he was an African prince and heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (now Botswana). Their marriage was seen as a transgressive, provocative act, crossing lines of race, class and politics. It was met with a particularly dim view in Bechuanaland’s neighbouring country, South Africa, whose Prime Minister called it “nauseating.”
All of this is fertile emotional and political territory to explore, but A United Kingdom is not up to the task. Director Amma Asante and screenwriter Guy Hibbert (working from Susan Williams’ acclaimed book ‘Colour Bar’) have smoothed the edges and flattened the complexities of Seretse and Ruth’s story, filling it with one-dimensional characters and trite expository dialogue. The British authorities are represented by a pair of shady diplomats played by Jack Davenport and Tom Felton, seemingly designed to elicit hisses from the audience whenever they appear on screen. Their sneering superciliousness is so pronounced it is insulting both to the central couple and the audience. “Do you know what apartheid means?” Davenport’s Sir Alistair Canning asks Ruth early in the film, and we might wonder if he’s addressing her or us.
Read the rest of my review at Little White Lies