Movie Review: ‘A UNITED KINGDOM’ – an untold story told the way as everything else


Kip Mooney // Film Critic

Rated PG-13, 111 minutes.
Director: Amma Asante
Cast: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport and Tom Felton

A UNITED KINGDOM is a fascinating bit of untold history about a world-changing romance. Like 2016’s LOVING, it’s an important story about an interracial couple whose love had a great effect on their home countries. Unfortunately, the film plays like every other staid British historical drama you’ve ever seen.

David Oyelowo plays African law student Seretse Khama. He falls fast and hard for Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a British office professional. Their whirlwind romance leads to a marriage proposal, and Khama’s reveal that he’s the crown prince of Bechaunaland (modern day Botswana). Despite resistance from their family, friends and racist bloaks on the street, they marry and move to Africa.

Khama’s uncle Tshekedi (Vusi Kunene), the current king of Bechaualand, splits the tribes rather than face a showdown with his nephew. This causes major headaches for the British government, not only because they want to exercise more control over this protectorate, but also because it interferes with neighboring South Africa’s newly implemented apartheid.

This is where casting really adds to a movie, because who better to play stubborn, upper-crust British officials than Jack Davenport (the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN films) and Tom Felton (the HARRY POTTER films)? Then again, it’s not like this movie needs to underline any of its themes.

Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo lead A UNITED KINGDOM. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Director Amma Asante’s previous film BELLA, another historical drama, might as well have had “racism is bad” watermarked on every frame. A UNITED KINGDOM is less preachy, but any scene where they encounter resistance is as heavy-handed as movies get.

Yet, the acting is often tremendous. In 2014, Oyelowo and Pike gave two of the best performances of the year and their lives in SELMA and GONE GIRL, respectively. They haven’t gotten roles quite as good since, but they give it their all and make the love believable. But it’s South African actress Terry Pheto (MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM), who’s only been in a handful movie, that really makes an impression. As Seretse’s sister, she has the biggest arc, going from racist princess to supportive sister-in-law.

That makes A UNITED KINGDOM worth seeing, even if it’s destined only to become another movie history teachers show their classes on rainy days.

A UNITED KINGDOM opens Friday in limited release. (Dallas: Landmark Magnolia, Angelika Plano)

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.