Cliches, tears and true love conquer Africa
A United Kingdom has every cliché in the book - and then some: eyes meeting across a crowded room; the charming African stranger who turns out to be a prince; the bigoted, uptight white father who disowns his daughter for taking up with a black man; the first view of Africa through a plane window as giraffes lollop along; racist whites who call out Slut and anti-white villagers who assume the Englishwoman has came to lady it over them; first arrival in Africa – symbolised by a view through the plane window of lolloping giraffes; the suave, lying Foreign Office smoothies; perfidious British politicians for whom mineral earnings trump human rights; the reporter in search of a story who digs up the dirt that saves the day (as a journalist, I feel we don’t get enough of him); the anguished tears of the lovers torn apart…
… and so it goes on. And it’s wonderful.
It’s big screen, romantic tearjerker. What’s more, it’s true. Well, it’s “based on a true story”, that time-dishonoured filmmaker’s phrase which usually means that at some point in the distant past something happened that bears an insignificant resemblance to the film’s story.
But this story is real. Seretse Khama was a member of the royal family in Bechuanaland, and he did meet and marry a white Englishwoman, and they did fly back to his country, and British officials and politicians from both main parties did behave deceitfully and disgracefully, and the prince did become president, and true love won out and the couple did stay the course and have children – one of whom is the current president.
Even knowing the story, even allowing for the clichés and the liberties taken with the characters and the story, even with my dislike of feature films about real events, because the images are so powerful that they remain in the eye and mind though you know it wasn’t really like that. If you are a stickler for historical accuser, read a book instead. Even so, I enjoyed it.
It’s lovely to look at, the tension is well maintained, the heroes are heroic and the villains are hissable, and there are some good lines. It’s excellent entertainment. Even more importantly, it’s a reminder of a time that the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America tilted the Earth on its axis by pushing colonialism aside. It’s also important for recalling an episode in colonial history that does Britain no credit, a reminder that today’s flag-wavers for Empire are in reality trying to create a draft that will blow away the evidence of the past.
* A U nited Kingdom is showing at the London Film Festival
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