A United Kingdom

Director: Amma Asante (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

The sincerity of this solid historical drama is undermined by the overly flattering portrayal of its subjects, the real life mixed race rulers of Beuchanaland, Seretse and Ruth Khama.

As played by Brit actors David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, they are paragons of quiet dignity and determination. Oyelowo is impressively impassioned as the law student turned politician who believes in equality, inclusion and unity. However, with Pike’s accent as well cut as her cheekbones, the supposedly middle class Ruth frequently comes across as far more regal than her royal husband.

As they fight to bring independence to what is today Botswana, the devoted couple face the considerable forces of colonialism, exploitation, prejudice, propaganda and ridiculous ceremonial pomp. Together they battle the Empire, their own citizens, his disapproving family and piratical American mining corporations.

Racially segregated in practice but not in law, the then British protectorate of Bechuanaland was one of the one of worlds poorest countries. It suffered malaria, malnutrition, drought and poverty.

The Khama’s marriage is considered by the Empire to be inflammatory at a time when neighbouring South Africa is instigating apartheid. And stability is South Africa is paramount to the Empire, the UK’s gold supplies are dependent on it.

Styled the black king and white queen by the British press, the Khamas are not prepared to be pawns in the Empire’s game of global politics. Representing the Empire is Jack Davenport‘s wonderfully oily Sir Alistair Canning. Jack Lowden appears as Tony Benn MP. True to form, the self-styled conscience of the parliamentary Labour party spends his time battling his own side.

A companion piece to her period piece Belle (2014), Asante fashions her material with deft confidence and produces an engaging and handsome work. The opening scene is a joy of character and thematic economy. We witness Seretse taking part in a university boxing match. He is shown to be a courageous but naive fighter who is defeated at the hands of treacherous former public school boys.

London is believably stuffy and smog-filled, contrasting well with the bright open and faint optimism of Bechuanaland. There is a smooth dexterity in the handling of scenes which alternate between the intimate and the epic.

However the story struggles against the inertia of reality. The script is stretched having to cover a distance of thousands of miles and a time scale measured in years. Nor does it help having the central duo spend long periods on different continents.

The scant awareness of this story in the west lends the film a fresh appeal. It’s handsomely crafted and well played. It’s an overwhelmingly positive portrayal of an African nation and a celebration of democracy. All of which is welcome. But as a drama I wished it had more grit.


Gone Girl

Director: David Fincher (2014)

She’s sexy, savage and inscrutable – British actress Rosamund Pike finally gets a role worthy of her talent in the most entertaining thriller of 2014.

Filled with murder, kidnap, rape and revenge, the movie is glossy on the surface and trashy at heart.

But it’s also superbly sharp and twisted, with a fine-tuned sense of humour to balance the darkness.

On his fifth wedding anniversary Nick (Ben Affleck) finds his home spattered with blood and his perfect wife Amy (Pike) missing.

Nick refuses to believe Amy is dead and starts a high-profile campaign to trace her.

Through flashbacks from Amy’s diary, we see the couple fall passionately in love, marry and pursue successful careers.

But the police investigation into her disappearance uncovers Nick’s large credit card debt, incriminating evidence and a mistress.

They also discover her diary, which details Nick’s history of violence and her fears for her safety.

Now the prime murder suspect and facing the death penalty, Nick employs charismatic celebrity lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry).

Then the story is turned on its head.

As well as exploring how we create our own identities, the story takes a swipe at trial by TV and has a few choice words to say about marriage as well.

Pike goes full throttle into the curves of her performance and Affleck’s measured performance allows the supporting cast to stand out.

Carrie Coon brings warmth and concern as his twin sister Margo and Kim Dickens as cop Rhonda Boney, steals every scene she’s in.

Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (son of cinematographer Jordan) should pick up his third Oscar nomination for his stunning work.

First time scriptwriter Gillian Flynn adapted her own bestseller and the direction by David Fincher is gleefully malicious.