Director Amma Asante’s latest project, A United Kingdom, is seeing a limited theatrical release this weekend after premiering at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. Starring David Oyelowo (A Most Violent Year, Selma) and Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day, Gone Girl), the film tells the story of Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana, who caused an international controversy when he married a white Englishwoman in the late 1940s. Their marriage was met with criticism and persecution in both South Africa, which borders Botswana, and Seretse’s family and local Bamangwato chieftaincy elders. At the time, interracial marriage was illegal in South Africa. To complicate things further, Botswana (then Bechuanaland) was a British protectorate, and England was still recovering from World War II, and so relied heavily on supplies imported from South Africa. As a result, the British government declared Seretse unfit to serve as chieftain and exiled him and his wife, Ruth Williams, from Botswana in 1951.
The couples exile, however, did not go unnoticed. Local organizations and activists were quick to condemn Seretse’s exile as nothing but blatant English racism. Britain, in turn, witnessed wide dissatisfaction with the decision, but even so it would be another 5 years before Seretse and Ruth were allowed to return to Bechuanaland and under the condition they do so as private citizens. As a result, Seretse was stripped of his chieftaincy, but that was far from enough to keep him from staying active in politics. In 1961 Seretse founded the Bechuanaland Democratic Party, which gained support from both sides of the political spectrum, so much so that he beat out all other competition and was elected Prime Minister of Bechuanaland in 1965.
Now in as Prime Minister, Seretse furthered his efforts for an independent Botswana, and later that year earned the country its independence and became its first acting president. He would go on to drastically improve the country’s economic, health care, and education systems, earning Botswana an economic surplus by the mid ’70s. He died at the age of 59 of pancreatic cancer after dealing with years of medical issues, including diabetes and heart and kidney issues. From the looks of the trailer, Asante and screenwriter Guy Hibbert seem to do a good job interweaving Seretse and Ruth’s love story with the former’s obligation to his home country. The significance of such an event to our modern era seems pretty well established, but the film has received mixed reviews from critics who praise the performances of the two leads but have come down on Asante for her very direct style of filmmaking. Nevertheless, I would still recommend going to see this one in theaters if you get a chance. Let us know your thoughts!