“My grandfather was a King – I am his heir. I have a responsibility to return home to my people, but I will never achieve anything worthwhile if I leave my heart here” says Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) of Bechuanaland (modern day Botswana) when speaking about his British wife Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) the London office worker he married in 1948.
These were two people who would have to triumph over many obstacles put in their way in order to transform their nation and inspire the rest of the world to begin to embrace ideas of equality and freedom for all.
Sereste and Ruth met at a London Missionary Society dance, she an insurance clerk and he the future king of a protectorate under British Rule since Victorian colonial times. Their love and marriage all came about in a climate of distrust and dismay at their very audacity to think that a black man could marry a white woman at all. However by then we had fought two world wars over freedom and for every one’s right to choose.
Someone had to make a stand and these were people with the courage of their convictions. And, when Winston Churchill championed their cause from the opposition benches, you just know that finally the world is ripe for the changing.
Their struggle was ongoing when I was growing up, and I remember it well.
Prejudice is something I have never been able to abide since a point during my childhood when I first began to understand there are differences in the way we look and live in world. This story and indeed the diary of Anne Frank changed my life as I am sure they did many others.
Don’t read any more if you don’t want spoilers.
United Kingdom the movie set in the 1940’s is stirring heartfelt stuff, the inspirational true-life story of King Seretse Khama and his British wife, Ruth Williams Khama.
Director Amma Asante and her stars Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo present this defiant and enduring love story with great conviction, while shining a light on a complex and painful chapter for British history.
They are pure magic together, as they both showcase their characters sincerity with quiet reserve and a true empathy for the two people who helped to grow a world view.
Their powerful story is at the heart of this United Kingdom and all about the ways in which attitudes and philosophies, fashions and passions shape a nation’s collective heart and soul, and as such, this is very much a film for the Brexit-riven present.
Their interaction is a pleasure to observe, especially when you remember the story first hand and how Sereste and Ruth faced the fierce opposition from their own families, the British government and their own countrymen and women bravely, as they came together pinning their faith on a love that would survive such determined opposition.
Together they forged a marriage that defied all the odds and the many people who simply did not want it to proceed for a variety of reasons, including that of the neighbouring country of South Africa, which was in the process of setting up its dreadful apartheid regime.
Apartheid became both a political and social system in South Africa while it was under white minority rule and lasted from 1948 to 1994. Racial segregation had been about for centuries but the new policy started in 1948 was much stricter and far more systematic.
This story concentrates on the couple and their personal journey as they move to Bechuanaland (modern-day Botswana) where they face equally the obstacles of racism, while Seretse tries to convince his people and the British government that he should become its new king.
They regularly have to face the creepy British civil servant Sir Alistair Canning played convincingly by Jack Davenport, who is determined to make their life as difficult as he can, wanting to wrench them apart.
Ruth however comes from good working class British stock and is not prone to giving in to such upper class privileged pen pushing bullies, while Seretse knows he has found the woman of his heart so he’s not about to capitulate either.
Seretse Khama saw his marriage to a white woman as a separate matter of personal choice and the struggle they surmounted is one still ongoing today, helped by the fact that their son, Ian Khama, is currently the democratically elected president of Botswana.
United Kingdom is an important movie in the context of history, reminding us to never let down our guard in keeping those who want to constantly drive rifts between nations over race at bay. We are all people of the world and well able to sing in harmony and on tune together when we but try.
His final triumph comes when finally declared King Sereste gives up the centuries old throne to make his country democratic and he is elected its first President.
The only niggling thing for me was the Director’s failure to explain why Winston Churchill dramatically changed his mind about this couple when he came back to power in the 1951 general election, which smacked so much of his own hypocrisy – he thought that they were expedient.
Politicians come and go but true love, as Sereste and Ruth help to prove, well it never goes out of style.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo