Friday, 20 June 2014

Belle - The Movie - My review

Oh my! Where do I begin, I was all anticipation for this movie, for two reasons, period drama and a story based on the life of a mixed race lady in the 18th century. Why? Because I love period drama and my father is white British and my mother is St Lucian.
Lets gets the formalities out of the way, this movie is based on a 'true story' and is not a' true story', so obviously it deviates from the whole truth, probably because not a great deal is known about Dido Elizabeth Belle and because it had to be dazzling enough for the big screen, I for one could appreciated that, I did not want another depressing discriminatory film.

Dido Elizabeth Belle is the illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay a Royal Naval officer, around age five her mother dies and her father sends her to live with her great uncle Lord Mansfield, at Kenwood House in Hampstead ( I cannot believe I have been to Kenwood house repeatedly throughout my life and had not known its history).
Dido is brought up among wealth, yet the conventions of 18th century society prevent her from being fully integrated. We follow Dido as she is brought up alongside her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray and witness the trails and tribulations young ladies of that time had to endure in the pursuit of a husband of large means, as Jane Austen would say " a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife"
Dido situation is different as a result of her colour and Gugu Mbatha-Raw did an excellent job of portraying Dido's struggle with the discrimination she faced. Lord Mansfield was Lord Chief Justice of the King's bench and throughout is working on a case involving the alleged murder of slaves on a cargo ship. Taking a local Clergy man's son John Davinier (Sam Reid) under his tutelage, John and Dido seem to have an attraction to one another, but after disclosing information about the case to Dido, he is banished from Kenwood House.

In step James and Oliver Ashford, James is a first son set to inherit a large estate, he shows Dido's cousin a great deal of interest but despises Dido and does not hide his blatant racist dislike, while his brother Oliver shows signs of interest albeit laced with subtle racism which is portrayed through his interest in the exotic. Will Dido and Elizabeth find love or be matched for wealth and status? How will her uncle juggle the pressure to support the slave trade, in conjunction with his new found loyalties to the niece he loves as he would his own daughter?

I loved Belle and I hope you will too, the storyline was captivating as were the costumes and dialogue. The acting was sublime, I did not see actors, just the characters they were portraying. The director Amma Asante did an excellent job at balancing the sensitive nature of the story. I did not feel the usual awkwardness that films based at the time of slavery often leave me feeling. There was one particular scene, where the consequences of Dido's skin colour leave her feeling like she hates the skin she is in and although I have never experienced that I have experienced prejudice and could totally relate to her pain and the isolation she must have felt.

Slaves of the 'one drop rule'
This movie and Dido's strength has truly inspired me. Being mixed race I am often categorised by society as being black and it is never questioned, however I would never be classed as being white and I suppose it goes back to the 'one drop rule' meaning a single drop of 'black blood' makes you black and I think that is where I could relate to Dido's story the most.

As a mixed race person I have fully embraced both of the cultures I have been born into. You could say that my love for Austen is universal but when I meet other Janietes, black Janietes are in the minority. When a recent question on Goodreads was raised 'who would like to go back to the regency era?' Many replied they would not and reeled of a list of domestic inconveniences such as a shower, toilet e.c.t. as for me it would be in regards to what it would have been like for someone of my skin colour. Finally here was a movie where someone of my colour would be portrayed in such an era and one that would leave me feeling positive rather than negative (okay Dido had it slightly better, as we see that putting aside colour, rank and wealth were the presiding key factors). But it also reaffirmed my philosophy that I treat everyone I meet on an individual basis regardless of colour, sex or culture.

When I started my blog I was anonymous, until I joined facebook groups and moved my account to Google +. People may not have realised that it was a big step for me, how would people react to my skin colour, would I still be accepted and would people still read my blog? Well the answer is yes, they did! They welcomed me with open arms and I thank them for accepting me into their community, re-asserting my faith in the goodness of mankind. Maybe the fact we all love Austen is enough to transcend race, however I personally believe that Janietes are special, as JA said...

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” 

I do believe prejudice comes from ignorance and Janeietes are very intelligent, I also believe they are fully versed in the concept of prejudice from JA's very own Elizabeth Bennet.

As you can tell I loved Belle for many reasons and I hope that when you see it you too will have your own special reasons for liking it.

I would like to end with one of my favourite quotes from Maya Angelou

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” - Maya Angelou


  1. Nice review Tamara! This post really made me think actually, about how people assume things from appearances even today, and by now you think people would know better. It never occurred to me that Janeites are more likely to be white, I wonder why that is? I can't imagine what it must've been like for Dido back then, in such unmixed society, especially in that class of society. I'm really looking forward to seeing the film. Great to see your perspective on it.

    1. Thanks Ceri, I would love to hear what you think of it. I agree I can only imagine what it would have been like for her back then.Unfortunately appearances and stereotypes still play a major role in all our lives today. Discrimination aside I did enjoy the love story. Do let me know your verdict once you have seen it. ;)

  2. Great review Tamara! I too have found the Jane Austen community to be full of lovely, accepting, beautiful people :)

    1. Hello Brenda, thank you, after speaking to you I was eager to see it. My Mr Darcy left work early on Friday and surprised me :) going to see it again this weekend with my mother :)

  3. I really appreciate reading this review from your personal perspective. I wondered what people like Belle would think of it, if it was too Hollywoodized. From what I've read, in real life Dido Belle was a companion to Elizabeth Murray, much like Jane Fairfax, but of course with the extra added complication of race. I'm dying to read Paula Byrne's biography of Dido Belle. I'm planning to see the movie again at the discount theater near my house.

  4. Thank you QNPoohBear, yes I wonder too, I think you are right though that she would have seen it as Hollywoodized However although it probably depicted a better life than she had, I think she would have liked the fact that she was made a heroine. Her presence I think undoubtedly played a part in her uncle's decisions in court. I really want to go and see it again, I can't wait for the DVD.

  5. I suspect that most people who see this film will just recognize it as a beautiful film and enjoy it as such.


Thank you! Your comments are always welcome