November 1, 2014

Film: Belle Doesn’t Help Her Cause

 

Inexplicable is the best way to describe Amma Asante’s latest.

PHOTO BY DAVID APPLEBY

Film: <i>Belle</i> Doesn’t Help Her Cause

Gugu Mbatha-Raw portrays Dido Elizabeth Belle in Amma Asante's Belle

Revisionist history is inescapable; making something out of nothing isn’t. As a critic, I try to avoid the cliché of ripping everything but there is nothing redeeming, at all, about Belle .

Faintly “inspired” by Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed-race daughter of illegitimate origin but ultimately of aristocratic status, she is stuck between being an heiress and a social pariah in 18th-century England. Sadly, the true story of Dido’s great-uncle legislating on the legitimacy of the slave trade only serves as background fodder to Belle’s love life.

Belle’s major failing is claiming to be something it’s not. Written by Misan Sagay and directed by Amma Asante, the duo make third-world problems out of first-world complications that appear misguided at best and ignorant at worst

Asante attempts to make this movie about race when it should about class. When a film is still as dominant as the instant-classic 12 Years a Slave, this film isn’t in the same universe. When Dido discovers that she is, in fact, an heiress, men (white men in particular) are lined up around the block to marry her. That’s a class issue and one that is still lingering in England. The only conflict Belle has when deciding whom to marry (which is the one assumed from the start) is if he is of “proper” stature. That’s a class issue. One in which Dido is the assailant. Was the audience not expected to pick up on that because of the bland love story in which the only thing going for it is the British accent? Racism is universally accepted as shameful; coming out against it does nothing. Class and status is something far more subjective. This was a wasted opportunity.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in her first headlining performance is a fresh face but doesn’t add any depth to being an heiress or human on screen. So….good job? Let’s give her pass for a beyond-weak script and see what happens next. I feel bad for Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson and Matthew Goode who are strong character actors who get next to no screen time. There’s a story to be told with their characters. I just wish that director Amma Asante had told it. Hopefully it will be placed in firmer hands.

I would say wait for this on basic cable, but to say that means I would want you to see Belle. This is a firm pass.