Belle

Belle

  • A quality period drama, Belle is thematically resonant and entertaining.
  • In no small part courtesy of a terrific setting. The amazing costumes, superlative set design and incredible ambiance immerse us in 18th century England.
  • So do many of director Amma Asante and cinematographer Ben Smithard’s other choices. As one example, when characters are at Kenwood or other noble estates, Belle is rife with subtle color, but when they are outside, in the city, amongst the populace, the film’s color palette is ever-so-slightly dulled.
  • Belle’s actors shine. As Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is borderline revelatory. Consider when she stares at herself in the mirror, clawing at her own skin, or, later, when she confronts her family at breakfast. And many more scenes beyond those. Mbatha-Raw is award-worthy.
  • As the film’s second protagonist, Tom Wilkinson (Lord William Mansfield) is every bit her equal. The stillness with which he shows internal conflict is beyond impressive.
  • The rest of the cast, highlighted by Emily Watson (Lady Mansfield), Tom Felton (James Ashford) and Sarah Gadon (Elizabeth Murray), are terrific, as well.
  • Writer Misan Sigay includes two storylines. The first is about the Zong massacre and the legal cases that followed it. Here Belle is engrossing and powerful, so much so that it resonates as historical fiction about morality and equality.
  • The second plot concerns multiple romances, none of which are equally successful, if only because they are transparently Hollywood-ized, so much so that they are predictable. The first moment we see him, we know what will happen with John Davinier (Sam Reid). Ditto that for James Ashfield or his brother, Oliver (James Norton).
  • In short, the romances are familiar, a fact that makes us question their historical authenticity and, by extension, temporarily pulls us out of the period drama. (Note: I searched Google once the film finished. Unsurprisingly, it appears the portrayed romances are mostly fictionlized.)
  • In that way, Belle would have benefited from a less cliched approach.
  • But, because its social consciousness works, it remains a successful film, one that accomplishes most of its objectives and deserves a recommendation.
  • Final Grade: B
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18 thoughts on “Belle

  1. I feel much the same as you on this one. The romances are too Hollywood and very predictable but the political aspects and the exploration of social inequality make this quite an interesting costume drama that is well worth watching.

    • Yup. I wish most of the romances had been excised altogether (especially since the real Dido’s real cousin/sister, Elizabeth, was actually an heiress and considerably more wealthy than Dido).

      Doing that would have meant the film belonged more to Wilkinson and Reid and would have made Mbatha-Raw more of a supporting character, though. And that would have been a shame.

      So, really. Maybe I just wish the story had stayed closer to the little we know about the real Dido’s real life, and ditched the forbidden love angle. I don’t know.

  2. Great review but eh…this one is certainly not for me. I have read countless positive reviews but cannot generate any interest whatsoever for it! Shame about the cliche romance!

      • The issue is that I’m not big on these sort of period and costumes pieces. The only ones I can do is…well…those that involve vampires or demons. Maybe I have gotten over that by now and should give it a chance….who knows haha!

  3. I agree the romance is predictable but I was so engrossed in the story and the setting, ambiance, etc that I didn’t mind it so much. It’s very Austen-esque which is quite predictable as well but still very entertaining. I LOVE Gugu Mbatha-Raw here, as you said, revelatory. I’m always impressed by Wilkinson and also Emily Watson, but I was also quite taken by Sam Reid as Davinier 😉

    • Agreed on all of the actors; they are terrific. The entire cast is, really.

      And I also agree that the story is engrossing enough to overcome the romances’ cliche predictability. This movie is still quite good.

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