A United Kingdom reveals a forgotten interracial romance from post-war Britain

A United Kingdom is the latest film by Amma Asante, the female black British director of Belle (2013).

Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo

A United Kingdom – Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo

It’s based on the true story of Seretse Khama (who was the heir to the throne of Bechuanaland – now modern-day Botswana) and Ruth Williams (an office worker from London) who begin an interracial romance after meeting at a Missionary Society dance in London.

One of the less well known stories from England’s postwar period, the couple get married but face considerable opposition from the establishment and the public.

The controversial point for many in 1940s London is that Khama was a black man while Williams was a white woman, with a complication that Khama was effectively a head of state in waiting with all the expectations that comes with.

In an era where South Africa was introducing Apartheid the social and political ramifications of such a romance, not least one where the man turned out to be the heir to an African nation, which Britain had political and economic interests in, is something that still echoes in modern Britain today.

There are, of course, many ways to do a film which is “based on a true story” – one could also choose to watch the better known “Allied” with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard which is out at the same time – but this is perhaps the more rounded romantic drama.

What we have in A United Kingdom is the essence of a period love story set amongst politically charged times in the UK and Africa. The couple have to battle family resistance, international politics influencing government disapproval and public attitudes on two continents.

Key characters from the British establishment lining up to thwart the lovers are played by Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Tom Felton (Harry Potter series) and there’s even a role for BBC stalwart Nicolas Lyndhurst but they seem underserved by the script, as do the African locals.

The supporting characters may be underserved in a script that has to condense a lot of material into two hours but the film crucially maintains an inspirational plot that holds your attention with main characters that you care for.

A United Kingdom (12A, contains racist language, moderate violence)

Summary: A biographical romantic drama about Prince Seretse Khama, later to become the first president of Botswana, who causes a diplomatic stir when he marries a white woman from London in the late 1940s.

RATING: ***