A New Favorite Movie
Last night I spent a lovely evening with two of my sisters, eating brownies, drinking cider, and catching up after weeks of busyness. Then we started watching Belle, a new film by up-and-coming director Amma Asante that’s been getting rave reviews. The story is loosely based on the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed race daughter of a sea captain who was raised by Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice of England in the 1700s. I’d heard an interview with Asante months ago and was so intrigued by the premise of the movie that I’ve been anxiously awaiting its arrival on DVD.
The film was a delight for two reasons. One, the story is fascinating because it centers around the true case of the Zong Massacre, when a slave ship purposely drowned their human “cargo” and then sued the insurance company for compensation. Lord Mansfield was the judge presiding over the case and finds himself under enormous pressure to uphold the profitable slave trade while simultaneously caring for a beloved niece who is herself black. Within this context, the character of Dido struggles with her unique position, a woman of class and fortune who is prohibited from even eating with her own family during formal dinner parties. Her growing consciousness is fed by the son of a vicar who zealously champions the cause of abolition.
Last year I read the biography of William Wilberforce (so amazing!) and was struck by what the abolitionist movement did during that time. Even though slavery was itself outlawed in England (decades before America), brave men and women did not forget that there were thousands of African men and women daily being kidnapped, enslaved and murdered in the slave trade- and most of the slave ships were British. It took character and force of will to keep after a country who liked to forget about slavery while simultaneously filling their coffers with money from the slave trade. (I cannot help but think of all the atrocities in the world that occur and that I don’t fight against because I don’t see it directly in front of me.)
The second reason I loved this film was because it was romantic. Romantic in all the ways of the best Jane Austen film- lush, witty, formal and chaste. Romantic also because the blossoming love between Dido and the young abolitionist is founded on a mutual admiration and growing sense of camaraderie.
Honestly, I’m writing this post but right now all I want to do is watch this movie again. (And since it’s at Redbox, this is a definite possibility. :)
What about you? Have you seen Belle? Any other good movies out on DVD right now? What are your favorite kinds of movies?