I saw the previews for the movie Belle at the theater but it came and left so fast that I never got to see it on the big screen. I intended to watch it on On Demand but then life got busy and I missed it again. I finally saw Belle the other night on HBO.
I may have put off seeing Belle because subconsciously I did not think it would be as good as it looked. Now that I have seen Belle I have to offer my praise to the writer Misan Sagay, the director Amma Asante, and the cast.
Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was the daughter of an African woman and an English member of the Royal Navy, an Admiral. Uncharacteristically he truly loved Belle’s mother and he found Belle in Africa and he took her to England to be raised by his uncle, her aristocratic Great Uncle. Her new guardian is Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), a barrister, and these events are happening in the 18th century so perhaps you can imagine how difficult a social task Belle’s father had assigned to his uncle. The Great Uncle is a good man who fulfills responsibilities to his nephew once he has agreed to them. He decides the child, Belle, will be known as Dido.
Belle’s father never came home. He died at sea. Dido’s Great Uncle and his enlightened wife have another daughter the same age and the girls grow up together. Mixed race and blonde – these things did not matter to the cousins who were very close.
In 18th century England aristocratic girls were taken to London for the social “season”. They were fitted with a lovely wardrobe and they attended endless teas, afternoon visits, shopping expeditions, park promenades, assemblies and balls. This was how young men were introduced to young women in these days when the innocence of a young woman had to be carefully guarded until she married.
Sadly, lots of matchmaking had to do with money. Aristocrats who did not have enough money would trade their good name to marry a young lady heiress. Dido happens to be an heiress. Her father left her an income of 2,000 pounds per year. Her cousin, the lovely blonde Elizabeth (Sarah Gabon), has no inheritance. So although England was in the slave trade and saw people with darker skin as property, less than human, Dido did better than Sarah in the marriage mart because of the living she inherited. At least it seemed that way.
But there is a second story going on in this movie. A young neighbor, the vicar’s son, John Davinier (Sam Reid), has been learning the law from Lord Mansfield. There is a case about to be tried in the courts. A ship went down and all its cargo was lost. The cargo was insured. Should the insurance company have to pay? Simple case, right? But the cargo was people, African people, destined for the slave market. John Davinier had a huge objection to looking at human beings as cargo. We can guess how Dido felt when she learned about this case.
This case and what happens with it, what it proves about Dido’s Great Uncle and about Dido, about John Davinier and even about Sarah turned this movie from just a nice period piece into something deeper and more satisfying. This movie is also based on a true story which made me like it even more. My first thought was best; this movie, Belle, was well worth seeing.
By Nancy Brisson