BELLE is an important, engrossing, and incredibly affecting movie. It sheds light on a story -- based on true events though fictionalized to a degree here -- that could have languished in history books and dissertations if not for director Amma Asante and lead actress Mbatha-Raw, who've turned it into cinematic reality. It's complicated in the best way; viewers will find themselves mulling over the issues of race, class, and gender equality long after viewing. In scene after scene, Asante unpacks the layers of prejudice and oppression that cloaked British society in the late 1700s. And though Dido lived hundreds of years ago, her struggles to define her identity and fight discrimination, in thought, speech, and actions, are still relevant in today's world.
Though it helps that screenwriter Misan Sagay sometimes takes great pains to ensure that viewers understand what's at stake here -- that the decision Lord Mansfield is about to hand down could be the first major step in abolishing British slave trade -- there may be a few too many turns in the script. The connection that needs to be emphasized is complicated and very significant, true, but the dialogue is a trifle too pointed, with the significance repeated many times, which doesn't let viewers connect the clear dots themselves. The writing also sometimes sacrifices wit for instruction. But the good far outweighs the (trifling) bad, especially when it comes to the outstanding ensemble of the cast. Wilkinson and Watson are superb as Lord and Lady Mansfield, renegades in their own right, and Mbatha-Raw approaches her role with great care and delicacy. She and Gadon are delightful to watch together, as is the entire movie.