For a genre that has long been dominated by white culture, a biracial heroine in a period drama is uncommon, but definitely not unwelcome. Belle, directed by Amma Asante, hit theaters on May 2, and takes place in England during the late 1700s. The best part about this movie? Itis based on a true story.
Dido Elizabeth Belle (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate half-black daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), is placed under the care of her aristocratic uncle and aunt, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and Lady Mansfield (Emily Watson). For a wealthy, well-known family living in a slave-trading country, the prospect of raising a biracial child was a tough pill to swallow. But as the daughter of a gentleman, Belle has certain birthrights.
Lord and Lady Mansfield raise Belle alongside her cousin Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon). While Belle is not allowed certain privileges, like dining with the family, she is not neglected nor is she hidden from visitors. She dresses in gowns of the same quality as her white cousin and is never put down for her lively, opinionated disposition.
The movie illustrates Belle’s growing consciousness of her place in society, the state of the aristocracy, and of the slaves, which – as a biracial woman of privilege – are both sides she can relate to. All this comes as her uncle, the Lord Chief Justice, must rule on a case in which the crew of the slave ship Zong drowned the sick slaves in order to collect the insurance money (also true story). And, because this is after all a period drama, Belle must also deal with a handsome suitor, John Davinier (Sam Reid).
In reality, not much is known about Belle. A portrait of her along with her cousin suggests that the two were treated as equals because Elizabeth’s hand rests on Belle’s waist. It’s generally thought that Belle was raised as a lady’s companion for Elizabeth. She married John Davinier, and the couple had three sons. Dido Elizabeth Belle died in 1804 at the age of 43.
Not only is this movie eye candy, it has a great plot and interesting characters—and all of it is based on fact. Belle is a great film and deserves a slot on your must-watch list. Not to mention, the beautiful costume design as seen in these pictures is enough to make any cinephile jump for joy!
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