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

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.