A United Kingdom

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

A United Kingdom

A United Kingdom is a powerful story rooted in racism in reverse. If the movie weren’t historically accurate, it might have been labelled “too good to be true,” but it did happen, and in just this way.

This fine movie was directed with great care and skill by director Amma Asante from a script by Guy Hibbert and a book by Susan Williams. Time, characters, and location may be different from those of today but the clash of cultural dictates – then and now – comes from the same hurt that racial hatred inflicts wherever it survives.

Time: 1947. Location: Africa and England. Characters: Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). Seretse was sent from Africa to London by his uncle (Vusi Kunene) for the education that would equip him for his hereditary role as king of the British protectorate of Bechuanalanda, later to become Botswana. When the future king meets Ruth Williams, a white woman who works as an office worker, they fall in love with scant understanding of the international eruptions their marriage will cause. They love jazz, dancing, and each other and they spend little time thinking about the future.

When Seretse’s uncle (Vusi Kunene) summons him home with the announcement that his reign is to begin, the trouble begins. Ruth’s father rages at her marrying a black man and disowns her. Seretse’s uncle is livid that he is marrying a white woman. That’s the equation and while it plays out differently in England and Africa, the hurt is deep on both sides.

The genuinely appealing thing is that neither he nor she ever wavers. No second thoughts for her about marrying the king of a small African kingdom; none for him when his uncle exiles him back to England for five years as punishment for his white wife. Ruth elects to stay in Africa during her husband’s exile while she works for his return and in every way she can to become part of the country.

Actors Oyelowo and Pike create a couple we care very much about, and we marvel that their story unfolded seventy years ago. In a grim echo of today, the rage of the British government and their families creates the turmoil that nearly dooms his reign.

Director Amma Asante and actor David Oyelowo, both born in the U.K., clearly saw this true story in the same way: a married couple with love of country, love of each other, and a shared determination to bring this educated, qualified leader to the throne he had been preparing to occupy throughout his life.

The filmmakers were wise to avoid creating imaginary subplots and to concentrate instead on two people focused on their own future and that of the kingdom. This was 1947. In spite of progress between then and now, it is impossible to watch this movie without admitting to ourselves the one thing that persists in spite of political progress: the emotions of racial hatred.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : A United Kingdom
Word Count : 497
Running time: 1:51
Rating : PG-13
Date : March 5, 2017


Hidden Figures

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Hidden Figures

How many times can you suggest with confidence that people of any age will love a movie? Hidden Figures is a beautifully made piece of history that holds audiences with a grand mixture of known and newly revealed tales of the early space age. The biggest surprise is the role played by three African-American women in the success of the early space flights, especially the role of one in John Glenn’s initial orbit around the earth. So there you have it: the tension surrounding that flight and the experience of those remarkable women.

Alan Shepherd, Gus Grissom, and John Glenn are training for space flights in NASA Langley Research Center (’61-’62) while African-American women known as “human computers” work in a building twenty minutes away from the all-male lab. That lab, under the direction of Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) is having detail trouble as those men prepare for their flights. When Harrison asks manager Vivian Mitchell, manager of the mathematicians, who might be able to solve a looming physics problem, Mitchell, with serious hesitation, suggests Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson). “Speak only when spoken to,” Mitchell orders Katherine, and when she steps into the men’s domain every man glares at her – some with curiosity, some with resentment.

And so we are reminded of what it was like for an African-American woman with advanced degrees to walk into a room of men who assume she is there to empty the trash. Whenever Katherine needs the bathroom, she has to walk twenty minutes back to her old building where there was a bathroom marked “Colored Only.” This is the woman who skipped several grades when she was six years old to enroll in the 6th grade at a school for gifted students. When Harrison learns about the 40 minute round trip to the bathroom, he takes action.

This story of the trio of star mathematicians is acted beautifully by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae. They play three brilliant women moving through life in the silence that envelops them in the segregated world where they work. And when they go home we watch them drop the silence of their day jobs as their wildly different personalities bloom in the company of their families. Kevin Costner also earns a big salute for creating a strong space team boss whose rigidity melts as he learns.

Much of the pleasure of all this comes from watching this story of the 1960s unfold from our present vantage point of 2017. The culture of fifty years ago broke scientific and social barriers in exciting ways, and all that is delivered by a gang of actors who knew exactly how to drop themselves back over those five decades to show us a key part of our history. The best of the lingering pleasures is the recognition of the women. You may be surprised at how much of this story stays with you long after leaving the theater.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Hidden Figures
Word Count : 496
Running time: 2:07
Rating : PG
Date : February 26, 2017