A United Kingdom
Romances come in many colors and can be successful with any genre fusion, be it drama, comedy, or even horror. But one important thing that any romance must get is the emotional weight of its’ pair; if this core aspect fails, then many of the subplots and subgenres can wither away.
A United Kingdom is the true story of an interracial couple in the 40s. Ruth (Rosamund Pike) works in the offices as lives a simple middle class life; Seretse (David Oyelowo) on the other hand, is a Botswanian prince, finishing his education at a London college. The two stumble upon each other at a gathering and quickly fall in love, but therein was their big mistake. The times don’t permit them to be together due to both their national origin and the color of their skin (something incredibly resonant today unfortunately), thus society pushes against their being together.
The film goes very much the way of the traditional “Romeo and Juliet” forbidden romance, but the problem with A United Kingdom is that director Amma Asante rushes through the beginning of Ruth and Seretse’s relationship so that we barely get to know the characters at all and much less buy their falling in love. Asante seems keener to look at the political shockwaves that Ruth and Seretse’s relationship cause, but without an anchored romance so the audience doesn’t really care as much as it should. As for when Asante gets into the political underpinnings, she end up skimming them in the most superficial of ways; events seem to simply happen or important information is dropped on our laps without any background or explanation.
But one thing Asante is good at is casting her films. Her last film Belle brought in the veteran likes of Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson, and then brought in relative newbie Gugu Mbatha-Raw. In A United Kingdom she once again benefits from casting two strong leads. Rosamund Pike is relatively bouncy as an every joyous and optimistic Ruth, and she’s well partnered with Oyelowo who channels his Martin Luther King Jr. charisma again for this role. But, as mentioned before, I felt like their onscreen interaction was very limited so that the actors are never given enough time to convince us of their romance.
So in the end A United Kingdom has a relevant message and some solid lead performances, but its execution is too flat for the intrigue and importance of this true story to transcend the screen.