I’m a sucker for true stories so when Twentieth Century Fox gave me the opportunity to screen the film, “A United Kingdom,” my interest was piqued. It’s a love story about culture and prejudice that begins in 1947. Prince Seretse Khama, in line, to become King of Bamangwato in the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland, (now Botswana) meets, falls in love, and marries British-born Ruth Williams, who is white.
A United Kingdom – Synopsis
Ruth, played by Rosamond Pike, is a typist at Lloyd’s of London and drove ambulances during WWII. Khama (David Oyelowo) has been studying law at Oxford and is well regarded by the people of Great Britain. They meet when Ruth and her sister (played by Laura Carmichael) go to a London Jazz club and are immediately smitten. As their relationship progresses, they encounter ugly resistance and abuse because of their interracial relationship.
Ruth’s parents are horrified when they hear the couple intends to marry and they become estranged. Undeterred, they marry in a civil ceremony and leave for Africa so Khama can take his rightful place as King. They are met with vehement resistance to their marriage by Khama’s family, particularly his uncle, Tshekedi (played by Vusi Kunene) his sister Naledi (Terry Pheto) and his people.
His uncle, who spent 20 years grooming him, insists that he renounce his birthright with the argument that it’s an insult to choose a white woman over a woman from the tribe. It would be like Queen Elizabeth marrying a black man. Instead, Khama wins his people over by telling them they are practicing their own apartheid by segregating themselves and will not be truly free until there is full equality. His uncle leaves in anger to start a new settlement and so the two factions can live in peace.
There is a dichotomy in that the country was under United Kingdom control. Areas were segregated for whites and blacks, As the tribal leader, Khama was able to interact freely with whites but was not allowed to drink alcohol and had to enter their buildings through special doors.
The apartheid government of South Africa pressures British authorities to take away Khama’s title so the Brits offer Khama and his wife 2 tickets to London to rectify his chieftainship and allow Ruth to visit her family and friends. This makes Khama suspicious. He leaves his wife in Africa fearing that the United Kingdom won’t let her return to Africa. Before he leaves, he notices that the Allied American Mining Company has been doing mineral explorations on tribal lands where they have mineral rights.
Khama is told in London that a report has deemed him unfit to rule and that he is to be exiled for 5 years. To placate him, they offer him a post in Jamaica but he turns it down. He appeals to the public to seek justice so he can return to his wife and a council forms to support him. His tribe in Africa protests to have their chief returned. It’s later found out that the report found him fit to lead but that South Africa didn’t want him there.
In a public announcement, Winston Churchill exhorts the sanctity of marriage and states that Khama should be returned to his wife. Instead, he is exiled for life. Ruth appeals to Churchill from Africa on TV newsreel footage.
She discovers she is pregnant and nine months later, suffering from Diphtheria, drives herself in labor to a hospital to give birth to their daughter. As she lives with the tribe, Khama’s sister and tribe members warm up to her. When the baby is strong enough Ruth returns to London to reunite with her husband and is met by her family who reconciles with her.
Diamonds and other valuable minerals are found on the tribe’s land. Khama convinces the authorities to let him return to Africa by telling them he will renounce his title. As a private citizen, he can assist the government to work with the tribe to share the profits from the minerals.
Later, Khama helped form a democratic government that became Botswana and became President after it gained its independence from Great Britain.
An important film to view – How you can see it
The film is beautifully directed by Amma Asante and the entire cast gives superb and emotional performances. The deep love between the couple is strong and they never let the societal clashes they endure rip them apart.
A United Kingdom is now available on Amazon here. You can get it on Digital HD, DVD, and Blu-ray.