A United Kingdom

Mar 2, 2017

It's solid biopic stuff, just not unique enough.

A United Kingdom

Image courtesy of IMDb.

Grade: B

Director: Amma Asante (Belle)

Screenplay: Guy Hibbert (Eye in the Sky)

Cast: David Oyelowo (Selma), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hr 51 min

by John DeSando

“No man is free who is not master of himself.” Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo)

Freedom is what A United Kingdom is about: Freedom for Prince Khama to choose a white British wife in Botswana 1940’s and freedom for the natives from British imperial rule.  Both themes are fully disclosed with an eye to history that seems accurate and not overly detailed.

Where the details of the struggle to bring back the prince to rule as king, a move opposed by the British and its Winston Churchill, get unhistorical is in the slow pace of the plot and the sentimental scenes and music behind the prince’s marriage to Ruth Williams (Rosemund Pike), a novice at romance and political intrigue.

The plot thread about their romance (“Did I tell you I didn't just marry you for your looks?”Seretse) is long and slow (The first part of the film is all about the wooing), and the challenge to his claim to the throne is repetitious bordering on boredom. Her emergence as the queen is threadbare with plot clichés, even as the story is “inspired by true events.”

Oyelowo and Pike are nearly perfect as the man who would be king and the lady in waiting. His turn last year in Selma as MLK was Oscar worthy, and her loving hesitancy works well set against the malign forces determined to separate the husband and wife.

The forces of inequality are strong as they wrap themselves in rhetoric about the safety of the country’s traditions and their need for British rule to survive. On the Brit part, the lust for riches from the country’s abundant mineral resources colors decisions about freedom that should in any other democratic society be self evident.

Besides the obviously hackneyed history of suppression and rebellion, the film slows its pace to allow speeches that could be slipped in as well in other films about Africa. Yet, this similarity in rhetoric may just help rank good biopics like this as accurate depictions of history and the human condition.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at