Saturday movie review: 'Belle'

History has always been one of my weakest subjects, the topic you never want to be teamed up with me on in trivia games of any sort. Yet I do love historical novels and historical films. BELLE quickly become one of my favorite films in the genre.

Belle bluray

BELLE is based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, an illegitimate, mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral in the late 1700s. When her father goes off to sea, Dido (played by lovely Gugu Mbatha-Raw) must live with her great-uncle and England's Lord Chief Justice (Tom Wilkinson) in an aristocratic society that shuns Dido for being illegitimate, but far more so for being black. Dido is raised alongside her cousin Elizabeth, with very different rules applied to Dido compared to her white cousin — a perfectly acceptable practice in England of that period.

As the strong-willed and independent-minded Dido reaches the age at which she's expected to marry and considers her limited suitors, the Lord Chief Justice must rule on a landmark case involving a slave trade ship's treatment (and possible murder) of its human cargo. His genuine love for Dido makes for a challenging case that could change the course of history and draw the ire of the powerful slave-trade powers that be if the Lord Chief Justice rules against them.

And, like any good period piece, there is a love interest, breath-taking costumes and lavish sets.


BELLE provides a fascinating and personal glimpse into matters of race and privilege of the aristocratic society of 18th-century England. The story also shows the true heart and romance of the era, especially as it applied to the luminescent, beautiful Dido and John Divinier (Sam Reid), the man who longed for her hand in marriage.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw seems set for a long film career, if based on this performance. Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson (who played his wife) are fabulous, as always. And Reid, whom I'd never noticed in films before, perfectly complemented Mbatha-Raw in each and every scene they had together. Plus, it made me smile to see Penolope Wilton playing a character other than Downton Abbey's Isobel Crawley.

I love film featurettes, and here's one for BELLE that I'm happy to share:

BELLE, written by Misan Sagay and directed by Amma Asante, is rated PG. The movie was released theatrically earlier this year and is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and streaming. For more information, visit the movie's official website.

Disclosure: I received free access to the screener for this film courtesy Fox Home Entertainment, with no obligation to review. Opinions are my own.