Movie Review: Belle
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Sam Reid
Director: Amma Asante
Running time: 104 minutes
No, this movie is not about a Disney princess in a fluffy yellow gown.
This movie is based on a true story of a girl who is said to have played a major role in abolishing slavery in Great Britain. Born Dido Elizabeth Belle, she was the illegitimate daughter of a Spanish slave and a Vice Admiral of the Royal British Navy, Captain John Lindsey.
Set in the 1700s, this movie narrates the life of Dido Belle as she is brought up under the care of Lord Mansfield, the then Lord Chief Justice of England. The story revolved around the time when there came the question of whether or not human cargo could be compensated, now famously called the Zong Massacre. The case so went that a slave ship carrying slaves from Africa had to throw them overboard because the crew members were running out of water supplies.
The movie starts with a scene in the West Indies, where John Lindsey discovers his daughter’s existence, and takes her with him back to England to live the life she was born into.
Belle is entrusted in the care of Lord Mansfield and his wife, who was also bringing up their niece, Elizabeth Murrey. They accepted her and brought her up as a proper lady allowing her all the privileges that aristocratic women had in those days. However, she was not allowed to join the dinner table had guests been entertained. But she joined them later in the living room.
When came the question of marriage, Lord Mansfield knew that no well-bred aristocrat would look at her as a prospective bride, and anyone below that would simply not be good enough for her. He felt that the only solution for Belle was to remain a maid.
Belle meets John Davinier, the son of a Vicar who was apprenticing under Lord Mansfield and who tells her about the Zong Massacre (mentioned above).
Also around that time, news arrived that Belle’s father had died and left her with an income of 2000 pounds annually, making her an heiress.
Elizabeth Murrey (Belle’s cousin) starts seeing a man, James Ashford, the first son of a dame, and views him as her future husband. But he quickly drops her when he realizes that she is completely and utterly impoverished. On the other hand, his younger brother, Oliver, proposes marriage to Belle (only because she is extremely rich) and she soon agrees to it.
In the meanwhile, when the family is in London, Belle keeps secretly visiting John Davinier who gives her updates on the Zong Case. He is one of those who believe that the ship should not be compensated, as human life is more precious than cargo. You know, he’d be fairly at home working in an NGO had he been born in the 21st century. But back then, they had no NGOs. Well, I think they didn’t.
Once during their secret visits, Lord Mansfield confronts them and John professes his love for Belle.
Now comes the tricky part; what happens to Belle. Does she marry the blue-blooded Oliver Ashford, or does she go to the common John Davinier, who clearly isn’t good enough for her as viewed by her uncle.
As regards to the Zong Case, you would probably know that the slave-trading syndicate were not due the insurance payments. The reason, it turned out, was because the slaves were over-crowded in the ship which made them sick and was likely to fetch lesser price in the market. So ship officials chained them together and threw them overboard, deciding that their insurance payments would be more than their loss. They said that it was because they were running out of potable water. But Lord Mansfield discovered that the ship had stopped in many routes en route and could have easily replenished their supplies. And therefore the judgement was ruled against them.
Now I bet there are plenty of questions as to what happens to Belle.
For that, you’ll have to watch the movie.
A very gripping story-line with perfect execution by the actors. I enjoyed every bit of it, and I really, really hope that you would to. There are very few movies that can keep me entertained for the entire length of it, and Belle was one such movie. I was hooked during the entire span of 104 minutes.
The film has been nominated many times, including in the British Independent Film Awards, Empire Awards and London Film Critics Circle.