The Sloth once sat next to Rosamund Pike at a screening and she had such long legs we had quite the job climbing over them to get out as the credits rolled. It’s a mystery why her career has been decidedly muted following the huge success of Gone Girl, but A United Kingdom sees her take on her highest profile role since.
A true story, it recounts the stranger-than-fiction tale of Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a seemingly ordinary young woman in the late 1940’s. Ruth lives in London with her parents and sister, works in a typing pool and goes to dances, much like thousands of other ordinary young women of the time. Dragged along as her sister’s plus one to a dance organised by missionaries, Ruth meets Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) from Bechuanaland, who is in London studying to be a lawyer. An instant connection sparks between them and they begin dating in spite of two crucial things 1) the 1940’s was not tolerant of mixed raced couples and 2) Seretse is soon to return to Bechuanaland. Seretse then chucks a further spanner in the works revealing he is in fact PRINCE Seretse and shortly to be crowned King.
At that point The Sloth would have thrown in the towel and gone for a port & lemon with Pete from the chippie, but Ruth was made of sterner stuff. Deciding to marry, the loved-up Ruth and Seretse envisage returning to Bechauanland on a wave of romance and living happily ever after. However it’s not just Ruth’s family who are vehemently opposed to the idea – the British government, conscious of its political links with a South Africa newly embracing apartheid, and the entire nation of Bechaunanland horrified at having a white queen, are none too pleased either.
A United Kingdom is at its best in portraying a fascinating and inspiring human story, with terrific performances from both leads – The Sloth wanted to cheer after David Oyelowo’s impassioned speech imploring Bechaunaland to accept his Queen. It does get a little too caught up in documenting the convoluted politics of the time but, in the world’s frankly disturbing current political climate, it is a sobering, timely tale that reminds us how far we have come, or thought we had come, in fighting racism. Let’s not go back there.