Deeply-moving love story crosses racial divide to revel in what unites

Rosamund Pike as Ruth Williams and David Oyelowo as Seretse Khama  PA/Pathe
Rosamund Pike as Ruth Williams and David Oyelowo as Seretse Khama PA/Pathe

A UNITED KINGDOM (12A, 111 mins) Drama/Romance. David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Vusi Kunene, Terry Pheto, Laura Carmichael, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Abena Ayivor. Director: Amma Asante.

Released: November 25 (UK & Ireland)

A shameful episode of bigotry during the post-war decline of the British Empire provides rich source material for Amma Asante’s handsome and deeply moving love story.

Anchored by impassioned performances, A United Kingdom dramatizes the true romance of a defiant African prince and a London salesman’s daughter, which embroiled two continents in an ugly tug-of-war for supremacy.

The central couple are kept apart for many years, including the birth of their first child, and scriptwriter Guy Hibbert captures the terrible injustice and anguish of this period of exile with aplomb.

Hibbert also gifts leading man David Oyelowo several barn-storming speeches against apartheid and intolerance, including a pivotal meeting of tribal chiefs, where the prince tearfully tells the assembled throng, “I love my people, I love this land - but I love my wife.”

His unswerving belief that love conquers all, at a time when the world still bears the scars of bitter conflict, galvanizes every beautifully composed frame and plucks the (heart)strings of composer Patrick Doyle’s lush orchestrations.

Cinematographer Sam McCurdy contrasts the industrial grey of London with the sun-baked golds, oranges and browns of southern Africa, a rRoavishing backdrop where poisonous emotions take root and produce bitter fruit.

Seretse Khama (Oyelowo), heir apparent to the nation of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), is studying law in 1947 London before returning home to lead his people.

He has been prepared for this role by his proud uncle Tshekedi (Vusi Kunene) and a council which kowtows to the British.

At a dance organised by the London Missionary Society, Seretse falls in love with typist Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), whose bigoted father George (Nicholas Lyndhurst) would never condone the flourishing romance.

“Father will hate [Seretse] on sight,” observes Ruth’s sister Muriel (Laura Carmichael). “He’s cleverer than him... and he’s black.”

Paternal rage pales next to the indignation of Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport), the British government’s representative in southern Africa.

“If you choose to marry the leader of an African nation, you will be responsible for the downfall of the British empire,” he coldly informs Ruth.

Unperturbed, the couple marries and Ruth accompanies Seretse to Bechuanaland, where she faces hostility from uncle Tshekedi, aunt Ella (Abena Ayivor) and Seretse’s sister Naledi (Terry Pheto).

Meanwhile, the British - represented by snivelling district commissioner Rufus Lancaster (Tom Felton) - and the South African government use underhand tactics to separate the lovebirds.

A United Kingdom is a stirring ode to love, distinguished by molten on-screen chemistry between Oyelowo and Pike.

Asante elegantly navigates the political quagmire, eschewing heavy-handed sermonizing about the controversial inter-racial romance, including powerful scenes of Ruth attempting to win over the sharp-tongued women of Bechuanaland.

Archive photographs over the end credits hammer home the couple’s remarkable sacrifices and their enduring legacy in Botswana, and far beyond.