A United Kingdom has enough charm in its performances and writing, and is interesting both for its personal story and its political context, but is perhaps misleading in what impression it gives about itself.
Despite initial indications, the story is less about the relationship between Ruth Williams and Seretse Khama, the heir to the then British Protectorate of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), and more about Seretse's struggle to fight against colonial abuses of power.
The first third of the film is almost exclusively about their relationship, and follows the typical conventions of a love story with little except the racism of the British population to differentiate it from any other. It rushes through many of their meetings and moments to simply get to the marriage and their arrival in Bechuanaland. Ruth and Seretses' relationship becomes more interesting when the complications in the second act of the film are realised, where Ruth is trying to adapt to life in Bechuanaland and Seretse is taking up responsibilities as a leader, but even then the focus is more on Seretse than Ruth and their stories develop largely in isolation to each other. As the film progresses, they are eventually separated for almost the rest of the film, save for telephone conversations, leading the development of their relationship being far more limited. It becomes clear once Seretse is voted leader that the focus of the story isn't really on their relationship, which is to the film's benefit as the political struggles Seretse has to deal with are the most interesting part of the film.
Once the film focuses on Bechuanaland, the theme of racism is handled quite differently too. The more overt demonstrations of racism emphasised in London gives way to the subtler forms of racial tension with the economic pursuits of American companies and the political machinations of the declining British Empire. Despite the clear segregation imposed within Bechuanaland, the racial struggle becomes a political more so than a social point, which is why the focus of the film is so strongly on Seretse himself. Thankfully, the film handles well what could become a convoluted mess of political power plays by clarifying key political points, like the conflict between South Africa and Bechuanaland, and is well-paced in terms of developing the investigations, negotiations and escalating political stakes. It manages all of this without depersonalising the story and diminishing its impact on the Bechuanaland people as well as Seretse and Ruth, and certainly makes the film's change of focus worthwhile.
As for the other characters, Seretse's relationship with his uncle is also well handled, especially since it establishes that the issues that Seretse faces are not all the result of white men trying to bring him down, but are also tied to close family whom he will have to cooperate with. The colonial officials that serve as Seretse's primary antagonists remain little more than pompous archetypes, but they serve their purpose and allow for some amusing verbal exchanges. Other key characters have a rather rushed development, such as the American reporter and Seretse's uncle's wife, but every actor involved performs well. David Oyelowo's performance as Seretse is very strong, and while Rosamund Pike's performance as Ruth is not as compelling, she does well with a role that didn't get nearly as much attention.
I recommend watching this film, though it is worth mentioning that it is not primarily a love story as the marketing and trailers would have you believe. Instead, the film is an interesting and concise presentation of Seretse and how he managed to secure the future of his country against major political and economic issues working against him. The story of his relationship with Ruth is not rendered trivial or unimportant, but it's clear that it was not the primary focus of the film, and perhaps this was for the best.
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