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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A United Kingdom is based on the true story of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), the heir to the tribal throne of Bechunaland (now Botswana), and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a white Englishwoman. They fell in love and married in the late 1940s, and their controversial relationship started a political storm in both England and Africa. There are a couple of mildly violent scenes -- a gang of racist thugs besets a black man (minor injuries), and law enforcement officers try to control angry people with batons (lots of chaos ensues). But it's the menace of apartheid and racism, depicted in its full ugliness, that's most upsetting. The "N" word is used, Seretse and Ruth kiss passionately and go to bed (her bare shoulders and his bare torso are shown), and there's some drinking by adults. Characters demonstrate integrity, perseverance, and compassion, and the movie's messages about the importance of both love and equality are clear and strong.
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What's the story?
In A UNITED KINGDOM, it's 1947, and Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) is getting ready to go home to Bechuanaland (now known as Botswana) to take his place as king. But love, arriving in the form of a white British woman named Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), complicates things. The pair quickly becomes enamored with each other, and when Seretse asks her to come home with him, as his wife, Ruth can't say no. But their union is complicated by geopolitical forces that threaten not only to keep them apart but could have a ripple effect across the entire African continent and beyond.
Is it any good?
This is a beautifully filmed drama about a fascinating, important time in history. But A United Kingdom, while certainly worth a watch -- especially for Oyelowo's and Pike's excellent performances -- is somewhat hobbled by its attachment to linear storytelling and telling, rather than showing. The story unwinds in a stolid, paint-by-numbers way that detracts from the passion underlying Seretse and Ruth's epic romance and the political storm it unleashes.
For a film about a love so deep that it left its imprint on history and the world, it's oddly devoid of intimacy. We're given hints, but we never quite know what, besides jazz and dancing, binds Seretse and Ruth. Nonetheless, A United Kingdom will have you running to your computer to do more research on your own -- it's the tip of a very engrossing historical iceberg.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how A United Kingdom depicts racism. What different forms does it take? Are some more hurtful than others? Why or why not?
How accurate do you think the movie is? Why might filmmakers choose to alter the facts? What are the challenges of adapting a true story for the screen? Did you learn anything new about Botswana or apartheid from the movie?
What does the movie teach us about history and how both laws and public opinion change over time?
- In theaters: February 10, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: June 6, 2017
- Cast: Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Jack Davenport
- Director: Amma Asante
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Character strengths: Courage, Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some language including racial epithets and a scene of sensuality
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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