Belle - Cinema Review

'A quartet of ladies at the centre of Belle tell a full and well-composed tale of their lives; of generations repeating mistakes, of continued negative influence from the much less fair sex.'

Though presented and sold as a film ostensibly about 18th Century racism, Belle is at least equally a film about 18th Century sexism. For that reason, it is little surprise that it is two blokes who cause Amma Asante's period piece the most distress.

In the male leads, Sam Reid and Tom Wilkinson are, respectively, a problem. Wilkinson is more a victim of his part than Reid is. Cast as the erstwhile patriarch, his job is to represent the society in which he lives. Slavery is the norm and a main industry and yet the moral Lord Mansfield (Wilkinson) is faced with a task presented as insurmountable: bring up mixed-race Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in her rightful place as a member of the upper class and rule as a judge on a case that could end the slavery industry. Though well-cast, Mansfield through Wilkinson fulfils the uncomfortable position of 'hero', whilst simultaneously continuing with many of what his society call 'norms'. He is not dissimilar to the man who says 'I'm not a rascist but...' and therefore he occupies a rather troublesome position on the film's moral compass. Reid's problems are much more straightforward: his simple campaigning vicar's son could not be more one-dimensionally 'good', earnest and noble if he was shown rescuing a small litter of puppies. Reid does little to make him more interesting.

Though they can distract, and in Wilkinson's case wobble the moral core of the film, Belle is not a story about either of those men nor the others who populate the wings (including an again typecast Tom Felton). A quartet of ladies at the centre of Belle tell a full and well-composed tale of their lives; of generations repeating mistakes, of continued negative influence from the much less fair sex. Whilst Belle must face several injustices related to her skin colour, both she and Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) face far more persecution at the hands of the men in their lives, two of whom (Felton and James Norton) objectify the objects of their affection to a horrifically callous degree.

Standing, at points, with and against them are Emily Watson and Penelope Wilton, the latter radiant as the put upon chaperone, Lady Mary Murray. That there is desire in both Mary and Lady Mansfield (Watson) to see Elizabeth and Belle secure is without doubt, the drama of the film coming from the fact that both also seem to accept - or at least grudgingly realise - that this may simultaneously require a match not ideal in character or location.

Asante's direction of a number of threads that vie for your attention is largely fine, though her chaotic editing hints that a bit more patience could have done Belle wonders. The first half of the film in particular chops all over the place and the pacing leaves little time to linger on a satisfying conclusion, though the director does at least try to give us, and Belle, the finale we deserve.





By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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