(Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2014)
Last Thursday, May 8, several JANSA-StL members, ourselves included, attended a preview of the new costume drama Belle at Plaza Frontenac. Just released by Fox Searchlight Pictures, Belle, as you may know already, is set in Georgian England and is based on the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle (1769 – 1804), the illegitimate, biracial daughter of Admiral Sir john Lindsey (1737 – 1788), who was raised as part of the family of Lindsey’s uncle, William Murray (1705 – 1793), first earl of Mansfield and Britain’s “Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench” from 1756 – 1788.
British actress Gugo Mbatha-Raw (center) stars as Belle in the new movie of the same name. In the foreground is Canadian actress Sarah Gordon, who plays Bell’s half-cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.
As you might expect of a British costume drama, Belle is well done: good acting; sumptuous costumes and sets; attractive, multidimensional characters; and an engaging story that, incidentally, offers not a little food for thought as it reflects both on Dido’s complex, contradictory status in 18th-century society and in her adoptive family, and on Murray’s pivotal role in several important cases relating to slavery and the slave trade. (In the movie, readers of Austen will detect familiar allusions to the “governess trade” and the “marriage trade” as well … and they may wonder what influenced Austen to name her third published novel Mansfield Park.)
Elsewhere you can find more formal reviews of the movie and more in-depth reflections on its creation and the real-life characters it depicts. (The production notes for the movie run to 48 pages; so reviewers have an abundance of background material from which to choose in preparing their reviews.) We can only say that, for us, Belle offered two hours well spent.
A final observation: Stephanie Merry, in her favorable Washington Post review, noted that Belle gives fans of romantic period drama something to tide them over until the next Jane Austen adaptation. That’s true, of course, but Belle is a bit more than that, as we’ve noted: It stands on its own as a good movie and good entertainment. Enough said.
—Jim Heine & Rose Marie Nester
[cryout-button-color url=”http://www.jasna-stl.org/2014/05/30/at-google-director-amma-asante-talks-about-her-movie-belle/” color=”#47AFFF”]See Amma Asante talk about her movie Belle on Google.[/cryout-button-color]