While at this time last year, very few people had likely heard the name Solomon Northup (the victimized protagonist of the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave), it’s a safe bet far fewer still had ever heard of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay. That too may come to change significantly over the next few months as the art house world catches up to Belle, which opens up the 2014 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Belle-for-short (preferable to “D.E.B.L.,” at any rate), who was a real-life historical figure in United Kingdom’s own struggles with institutionalized racism. Belle was the illegitimate daughter of a British naval officer and an African slave who was raised as a noblewoman in the 18th century. Though a woman of stature, she is not allowed to integrate in any truly meaningful sense. She is not even allowed to dine with her white family members, much less find an appropriate significant other in the rigid class systems of Great Britain.
Much like 12 Years, the film’s emphasis on eye-pleasing production design and attentive costuming sometimes threatens to consume the movie’s social import, perhaps more so here because director Amma Asante is depicting her main character’s place within a world of order, as opposed to the total, disorienting upheaval Solomon Northrup faced.
But beyond the movie’s noted Jane Austen-esque sensual overtones — bosom-heaving romantic overtures vis-à-vis the smolderingly handsome Sam Reid are definitely on the menu here — is a steely core of British sensibility. Belle’s situation eventually leads her to reach out to her uncle (played by Tom Wilkinson), a chief justice she hopes will vote against affirming the legality of slave trade in the United Kingdom.
(Incidentally, the one other thing that Belle shares in common with 12 Years a Slave is a sticky situation surrounding the authorship of its screenplay that eventually had to be settled through arbitration from the Writers Guild of America. Cast members swear they were working from a script by Asante, but the WGA assigned credit to Misan Sagay.)
Belle plays at St. Anthony Main Theater tonight at 7 p.m. with an additional screening at 7:20 p.m.
Other Highlights: Thursday, April 3
Well, technically there aren’t any other highlights for today beyond the opening night gala shindig, which takes place just after the screening tonight. But going forward, make sure to check this spot in all of our future blogs to see a few other movies that would be well worth your while to check out, especially if our headlining selection happens to sell out.
Throughout the entirety of the 2014 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, we’ll be spotlighting one notable movie each day, along with other notable screenings. To see the WCCO Movie Blog’s complete coverage on the MSPIFF, click here.