Belle is a historical drama set in late 18th century England. The movie is directed by Amma Asante and stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the title role. The character of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay is based on a real life person but most of the plot in Belle is fictionalised. In fact, the screenplay – written by Misan Sagay – was primarily based on a painting which portrayed the real life Lindsay and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon).
Belle’s story focuses on Lindsay, an illegitimate mixed (English-African) woman who was acknowledged by her father, Captain Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), and left in the care of Lindsay’s great-uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (Tom Wilkerson) and great-aunt Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Mansfield (Emily Watson). The Murrays grow to love Lindsay (whom they call ‘Dido’) as one of their own, even though she maintains an inferior status because of her mixed parentage.
Belle used this premise to operate as a commentary on racist and classist attitudes of the times, as the period witnessed Great Britain’s own struggle with slavery. Typical of period dramas set in the 18th and 19th centuries, there is also an exploration of women’s rights – of the lack thereof – as women were dependant on men for their livelihoods and circumstance.
Seen through contemporary lens, the themes highlighted by Belle continue to be relevant to modern audiences. It is especially refreshing to watch a period drama with diverse characters as all too often, most of the characters are heavily white-washed and this in itself becomes problematic.
The performances are all strong and lend weight to the heavy thematic purpose of Belle. Mbatha-Raw is brilliant in conveying Belle’s dilemma – her inner strength in confronting her invisible privilege is portrayed effectively. The supporting cast – especially Wilkerson and Watson – perform excellently in making Belle believable throughout. Highly recommended.
… still there’s more …