In the late 1940s, Prince Seretse Khama of Bechuanaland is studying law in Britain to help prepare for his eventual ascension to the throne back home. As the fates would have it, while he’s there he meets and falls in love with a clerk, Ruth Williams, and they plan to marry. One slight hitch: she is a white woman. He is a black African prince. Hard to say who their love most angers: her family, his constituents, or the status quo. Interracial marriage wasn’t exactly popular in 1940s England, and her whiteness isn’t even the whole problem: her social status is far beneath that of a prince. But they marry anyway, anticipating disapproval, unprepared for the reality of the diplomatic firestorm and political tumult their marriage would actually entail. His right to the throne is threatened, as is her life. He is threatened with exile, she with ostracism. Still, they persist in their love, not just of each other, but for the people of the new Republic of Botswana.
Director Amma Asante did the film Belle, which I truly loved. In this movie you can feel how earnestly she strove for realism: the real home of Ruth & Seretse was used. Their grandson makes a brief appearance. Botswanans were invited to be cast as extras, with 3000 showing up for the first day of filming! The real hospital where Ruth gave birth is used. And the singing during a pivotal scene in which Ruth finally gains a measure of acceptable from the tribe’s women, that was spontaneous and beautiful.
David Oyelow and Rosamund Pike play the lead roles and you couldn’t ask for a better acted movie. Oyelow is dignified as this humble prince, Pike strong and heart-breaking. They help strike a balance between the passion of their love and the stark reality of apartheid. It would be easy for one of these plot lines to swallow the other, but Asante manages float above it, entangling both, as would have been the case in real life.
It’s an inspiring forgotten story, tastefully and thoughtfully made, but for me, it just failed to really engage. Such a soaring story should really stir you up in the watching, but I found it a bit boring, the story telling too conventional. It’s still a worthy watch for knowledge’s sake alone, but it lacked a true spark.