MOVIE REVIEW: Amma Asante’s Belle Premieres At Silverbird Cinemas, Accra

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A stirring period drama with historical importance, Belle is a must-see for Accra moviegoers. Based on the true story of a mixed-race aristocrat who lived in 18th century England, it is directed by Amma Asante, an award-winning actress and director who was born to Ghanaian parents in the U.K.

The movie premiered in Ghana at the Silverbird Cinemas on Friday, September 12 to rave reviews. The event was preceded by a cocktail reception at the theatre’s Silver Lounge.

Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804) was the daughter of a British admiral and an African slave. Under Asante’s masterful directing,  the movie depicts her growing up in Kenwood House, Hampstead, under the guardianship of her father’s uncle Lord Chief Justice Mansfield.

Belle lives an unusual life – she is brought up as an aristocrat and even inherits a fortune from her father after his death. Yet her skin colour and illegitimate birth confer on her a curious social status – higher than a servant yet not quite equal to her white cousin Elizabeth, with whom she grows up.

Asante captures the tension of this dynamic with an exquisite romantic period drama full of beautiful cinematography and Jane Austen-esque  lushness. She interprets the grown-up Belle as a dazzling young woman, radically challenging the racial norms of her time and indirectly having a seminal role in history.

“I thought it was amazing. The characters really suited their roles; it was well researched, very well acted,” said Silole Mpoke, who attended the Premiere. “I found it fascinating that a young African girl could fight against slavery,” she said.

In the movie, Belle’s influence on the Lord Chief Justice ultimately impacts his landmark ruling on the infamous “Zong” case:- a judgement that became a catalyst for the abolition of the slave trade in Britain.

The pacing of Asante’s movie is flawless, her characters so believable and compelling that it could easily have run on a little longer – if only to see how  some of the supporting characters would have developed  for instance gentleman suitor Oliver Ashford, whom Belle  gets engaged to, but eventually leaves.

The  film covers many rousing themes: racism, slavery, feminism and justice. Under Asante’s expert direction the end result is heart-stirring and thoughtful. She says the lead character Lord Mansfield, (Tom Wilkinson), was inspired by her own father, who passed away during the making of the film.

“What I wanted to do was to tell this history through the story of a woman, the man she falls in love with… and even more importantly in some  ways a woman and her father,” Asante said in an interview at the recent Isle Of Man Film Festival in the U.K. “It’s a paternal love story as much as a romantic love story.”

Dido Belle,  played by rising British star Gugu Mbatha Raw, is joined by  a stellar cast which includes Academy Award nominees and other notable actors such as Tom Wilkinson (Lord Mansfield),  Emily Watson as Lady Mansfield, Sam Reid as Belle’s ” true love” John Davinier, James Norton as Oliver Ashford, and Miranda Richardson as Oliver’s mother Lady Ashford.

Ghana’s handful of talented, successful female film directors include  Akosua Busia, Julia Asante and Shirley Frimpong-Manso, director of the acclaimed film “Love or Something Like That,” who is a fan of Amma Asante’s work.

“I am really looking forward to seeing the movie,” Frimpong-Manso said.

“Belle is an inspiration to everyone who is looking to achieve the impossible.  A masterpiece by  all standards,” said Nana Twum Barima Yeboah, Silverbird’s Marketing Manager.

“It is a great time to celebrate one of our own in the arts industry,” he said.

Belle is currently playing at Silverbird Cinemas Accra Mall and Weija.

Times: Accra Mall – 4:20 pm, 6:30 pm /Weija – 6:30 pm

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About Amba

Amba is a Ghanaian journalist and media consultant who has lived and worked for more than a decade in four continents including Asia. She is currently “back home” and loves to blog about art, literature and the performing arts in her homeland. Amba acts as Creative Director for Sankusem Ghana, an NGO founded by Ghanaian concert pianist and musician George Francois.
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