It doesn’t surprise me to learn that British costume drama Belle came about after its screenwriter, Misan Sagay, spotted an 18th century portrait of a woman of colour, apparently an ensconced member of the aristocracy in an era where black skin was synonymous with slavery. The film is fundamentally good-intentioned, but strikes me as the exact sort of film a contemporary writer would imagine peering two decades into the past, imagining herself as a Mary Sue, an assertive individual above the prejudices of its time who sees slavery for its inhumanity and refuses to marry if not for love.
Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw; excellent) acknowledges the specialness of her position: “I have been blessed with freedom twice over, as a negro and as a woman.” Like much of the film, this dialogue is as unsubtle as the ornate costumes and opulent sets through which its characters walk. The delicacy with which most such period dramas navigate the social mores of their era are abandoned for overt explication of these bigotries. This means that as Belle hurtles towards its inevitable conclusion, its resonance with modern society – and today’s racism, classism and sexism; ubiquitous but unspoken – is limited by its obviousness.
5 thoughts on “Belle (2013)”
I’ll go along with you there. As a writer I enjoy imagining placing myself in a mental time machine and plopping down into an era not my own. Creating anachronisms in films and books are an easy trap to fall into. The film ‘Belle’ is an alluring opportunity to show an unique woman in a unique situation. While the costumes were gorgeous and the setting divine, the story line was boring and predictable.
It really needed Belle to be something other than perfect, for a start! It’s a shame that it was, as you say, so boring and predictable, because with more of an edge it could have been a really interesting picture. Thanks for the comment!
It’s a period-piece that actually has something to say about the world we live in now, rather than just making fun of how rich and fluffy the rich looked back then. Good review.
Yeah, I appreciate the attempts to link it to the modern world – but I think that’s something all (good) period dramas should do by design, and this one makes it a little too obvious for my tastes. Worthy message,though. Thanks!
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