Belle

A competently made and occasionally handsome period drama from Amma Asante, which fictionalises the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, an 18th century West Indian woman who was raised by a wealthy family in England, played here by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. While it’s an unusual British period piece precisely because of the lead character’s race, it’s conventional in every other sense, with its typicalities including such stock characters as the inappropriate love interest whose advances the poor woman must endure, the preferred love interest from a lower social standing, the dragon-like old dame with a venomous tongue, and the hard-nosed old patriarch – Tom Wilkinson as the 1st Earl of Mansfield – who must inevitably soften his stance on this, that and the other by the end of the story. The life of the subject is undoubtedly interesting, and the character of Dido’s even rather skilfully linked to the famous Zong Massacre case in the narrative, for which Mansfield was the judge (there’s actually no evidence to show that Dido had any influence over the ruling or anything to do with the case more generally, but it makes for a decent denouement). Aside from that, though, I feel like there’s too much here that I’ve seen many times before. Not bad, though. (**½)