Review: Belle (2014)


Gugu Mbatha-Raw shines in Belle, director Amma Asante’s otherwise stiff and by-the-numbers late 18th century period drama. Left under the care of Chief Lord Justice Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Dido Elizabeth Belle (Mbatha-Raw) leads a privileged life, but is still somewhat hampered by the prevailing social attitudes towards her dark skin colour. Never more than intermittently involving, Belle is nicely directed, but severely lacking in depth and conflict. Misan Sagay’s script skirts around many of the weighty issues it touches upon (slavery and class issues, to name a few), without ever saying anything that hasn’t already been said before – and said better, for that matter. Mbatha-Raw delivers a potentially star-making performance as Dido, perfectly reflecting both her inner and outer turmoil. But the rest of the cast are nothing more than well-dressed, occasionally impassioned decorations, and the influential court ruling that comes at the end – the one that’s signposted throughout – doesn’t feel anywhere near as unprecedented as it should.

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