Belle Review - Powerful, Resonating, Beautiful

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"Belle," from FOX Searchlight Pictures and Moneypenny Productions, brings to the screen the real life story of a Dido Elizabeth Belle, a woman ahead of her time fighting for equality, love, independence and freedom.


Produced by Damian Jones, "Belle" stars Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson, Gugu Mbatha Raw, Sara Gadon, Matthew Goode, Penelope Wilton, and Sam Reid. "Belle" was written by Misan Sangay and directed by Amme Assante.

"Belle" begins as a young Dido, played by Lauren Julien-Box, is rescued from the darkness of obscurity and shame and brought to her rightful place as the daughter, albeit illegitimate, of Captain Sir John Lindsay, aristocrat and nephew of Lord Mansfield.

The child is presented to two bewildered relatives, Tom Wilkinson, who embodies Lord Mansfield, and equally powerful in her performance, Emily Watson who plays his faithful and loving wife.

The two, stunned as Captain Sir John Lindsay/Matthew Goode introduces the molatto child as his heir, are instantly aware she is entitled to a place in society, linage, unheard of privilege and an inheritance, non-existence for black women to hold an estate of any worth. She and her cousin, Elizabeth, played by Sara Gadon, became inseparable as the story is told.

Society, courtship and  marriage in Elizabethan times is very much portrayed in practical terms, the size of the dowry, and the estate the female will inherit secures her chances to  marry up which guarantees her a life of respect. She may not find love, happiness or even pleasure and she may not be enamored with the match but to please and follow in the expertly carved out trajectory she would marry.

The scenes of courtship for Dido and Elizabeth, as the young women still giggling over the possibilities and are moving away from parents to husbands, are presented with both hope and practicality.

Miranda Richardson provides a sensible view of courtship in the 18th century as Lady Ashford, part financier, part marriage counselor, and always with the belief that one can get used to anything and money makes life easier and secures a solid future. 

As the two ladies are introduced to society, Lady Ashford's two sons played by James Norton and Tom Fenton are found to be suitable matches. These scenes are compelling as it is where hidden beliefs surface, tempers flare and agendas are uncovered.

"Belle" delightfully portrayed by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, is left, as her father has died, a sizable estate and therefore has the choice to marry or not and the freedom to marry for love should she choose.

As with life, the course of true love and finding ones true self does not come without cost, is often absent of reason and challenges one's own beliefs.

The story created by Misan Sangay is no different as the story of the Zong Slave Ship trial, the egregious blot of human cargo, trading and destruction, becomes the center of the back-story with Lord Mansfield, as the highest judicial opinion in the country, due to render his opinion.  

Dido and John Davinier, the former apprentice of Lord Mansfield, passionately played by Sam Reid, become swept up in changing tide challenging the judicial process, the status quo, and society.

"Belle" is a wonderful film, eloquently written and brilliantly brought to the screen. The talents of both Misan Sangay and Amme Assante are exceptional.

These two women, Sangay and Assante, both articulate and talented, filled in the blanks of a voice that had been silenced, resurrecting in reality, the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle. And with that they now have created historical reference for this illegitimate daughter of a slave and aristocrat, freed by love.

The ensemble cast is a pleasure to watch. All deliver powerful performances, resonating with truth.

"Belle" is a beautiful film. A period piece worth seeing; truly enjoyable! "Belle" smolders with stunning intensity.

"Belle" opens in everywhere Friday, May 2, 2014.
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