BY ROGER THOMAS
One does not always know what to expect when the lights dim. Most have some idea of what they are going to see. They have seen a trailer or at least the poster. Or maybe a friend has recommended it. Then there are those who read reviews, and discover a possible gem that might have been missed.
Even though I write the previously mentioned reviews, I find myself often being pleasantly surprised. Last spring brought two films that quite simply wowed me: “Eye in the Sky” and “The Man Who Knew Infinity.” Both of these films came out a little later, but that both impressed me just as a recent new film has this year. The first movie to truly catch my attention in a very positive way is “A United Kingdom.”
“United Kingdom” begins with a love story. A young African is studying in England and meets a British girl. The two enjoy their time whenever they can be together. After some time passes in their relationship, the man, Seretse, confides to his girlfriend Ruth, that he is in line to be the King of what would become the nation of Botswana. Seretse wants Ruth to be his wife and his nation’s queen. Of course, there are many persons in both Africa and England who do not want to see these two together.
I had never heard this story. Therefore, throughout the film there were twists and turns that I could not have predicted. The film is a love story, a political story, a human story, all rolled into one. It would be hard for me to imagine the film knowing more than I did. The film might possibly play completely different for those who know the story. However, for me, the revelations that came one after another kept my attention throughout.
Like “Loving” and “Hidden Figures” from this past year, “Kingdom” offers at true story filled with racism. There will never be enough films to stop all prejudice. But perhaps, good stories, told well, especially those that reflect the truths of hate, will plant seeds in future generations so that the problem will become smaller and smaller as hearts are opened. “United Kingdom” is about many things, but one of the most prominent themes is “matters of the heart.”
David Oyelowo and Rosemund Pike play the two leads. One or both of them is in almost every scene and they offer some very powerful moments when they are together and when they are forced apart. The film would have been less without their shining performances.
There are also some nice cinematography of Africa. I have never been to Botswana, but I have traveled to Kenya and some of the shots brought back memories for me.
Ultimately though, this is not a film about scenery or even marital drama, though Seretse and Ruth face many challenges to their relationship. The story is ulitmately about facing challenges for the good of others. As always, I do not know how close to reality the film is. What I saw on screen, that story, is remarkable.
This would seem like a bold statement, but it is not. After all, we are only two months into the new year. Many things will change over the next ten months or so. However, I can state with no hestitation, “A United Kingdom” is the best film I have seen this year that is officially a film of 2017. I hope dearly that there are many more films that will at least equal if not surpass “Kingdom.” As for now, I will hold fast to that positive feeling I experienced as I watched and was moved by a truly special film, “A United Kingdom.”
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.