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'Belle': the story of Britain's first black aristocrat


Cinema

'Belle': the story of Britain's first black aristocrat

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‘Belle’ is a historical drama based on the true story of the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a British Royal Navy officer and an African slave.

Dido Belle was brought up as an aristocrat at a time when slavery was still legal in England.

The film’s director is Amma Asante, who made her directorial debut in 2004 with the BAFTA award-winning movie ‘A Way of Life’.

At the European premiere in London, Asante explained how her inspiration came from an 18th century portrait of two cousins hanging on the wall of a Scottish museum.

“I looked at it and I saw Dido Belle alongside Elizabeth Murray, her white counterpart, and I knew it was a rare and unique portrait, a rare and unique commission, and I looked at it and I saw the possibility to tell a story that combines politics, race, history, all of those things and for me that painting was an absolute gift so I took all of my inspiration really from that painting,” she said.

The film is set at a time of historical significance following the so-called 'Zong massacre', the drowning of around 150 enchained African slaves by the crew of the Zong slave-ship. Belle’s stepfather’s ruling on the landmark case played a pivotal role in ending slavery in England.

British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Belle: “It’s such an uplifting and inspiring story, I really hope that audiences feel that from Dido’s journey, where she goes from this young, insecure girl, who’s confused about her place in the world, to a woman who gains the courage to stand up for herself, I hope that people kind of get that it’s OK to be comfortable in your own skin,” she said.

Co-starring Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Tom Fenton and Miranda Richardson, ‘Belle’ has garnered mostly positive reviews ranging from 'a vital film' to 'a watchable but conservative costume drama'.

‘Belle’ is on worldwide release from now.

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