A United Kingdom

A United Kingdom

Rosamund Pike & David Oyelowo

“Whither thou goest, I will go; and whither thou lodgest I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” So said Ruth in the Old Testament and English clerical worker Ruth Williams lived them, when her beloved asked her to marry him. This beautifully done film about conflicting loyalties in the midst of implacable racism and power politics (trailer) was directed by Amma Assante and written by Guy Hibbert, based on the true story of Ruth Williams and Seretse Khama, heir to the throne of Bechuanaland.

It takes place just after World War II, and the marriage was complicated. He was an African prince, and though she would become Queen of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), they were the only people who believed in the strength and staying power of their love. Botswana is the gentle landlocked nation north of South Africa, made vividly famous by Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books. But when Ruth and Seretse traveled there from England, where he’d been studying, tensions were high. Some—notably his uncle and regent—opposed his marrying a white woman. Some—notably the British overseers of the protectorate—feared a reaction by the emergent apartheid government to the South. Opposition by those racist leaders would threaten the U.K.’s revenues from the South African diamond and gold mines. Promises were broken, but not Seretse and Ruth’s promises to each other.

The intransigence and overweening self-interest of colonial governments is all too predictable, yet there are voices in favor of Bechuanaland’s right to self-determination. Will they be loud enough? Will the Africans ever accept an English queen? Can Seretse secure his people’s future? My ignorance of African politics over a half-century ago meant the movie held surprises, even though the plot hews closely to real events.

David Oyelowo stars as Seretse Khama and helped produce the film, with Rosamund Pike as Ruth—quite a change from her portrayal as Gone Girl’s manipulative Amy. She can convey so much with just a slight quivering of the chin. Laura Carmichael is her loving sister, and Jack Davenport, their principal British antagonist.

This is quite a lovely film, with top-notch acting and beautiful scenery, bound up by ties of love between people and peoples.

Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating: 84%; audiences 82%.


Selma, Martin Luther King, civil rights

David Oyelowo as Rev. Martin Luther King

The movie Selma (trailer), directed by Ava DuVernay is a beautifully realized reminder of the struggle for black voting rights half a century ago. Casting was so perfect that viewers who know the real-life characters can easily identify Andy Young (André Holland), John Lewis (Stephan James), and other era heroes. (As a Detroit native, I’m glad the movie remembered murdered Viola Liuzzo.)

Some commenters have quibbled with the movie’s historical accuracy—especially the portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson—but it isn’t a documentary, after all, and the presentation is probably more accurate than not. In a personal conversation, a White House insider at the time told me he heard Johnson said to King, “You have to force me to do what I want to do.” The political risks were too great (and chances of success too small) for Johnson to act unilaterally on voting rights, but if the pressure and public outrage became strong enough—as it did become after Bloody Sunday—he would act and did.

David Oyelowo is perfect as Rev. Martin Luther King—thoughtful but fiery when he needed to be, and he has King’s oratorical cadences down perfectly. Tom Wilkinson is always good, but I missed Lyndon’s Texas accent. Oprah, awesome. And Wendell Pierce could just stand anywhere, and I’d be with him a hundred percent. The whole cast, sincere and convincing.

My biggest frustration about the movie is the reaction to it. I hope leaders (black and white) use the triumphal feeling it engenders to remind people how important the courage and sacrifices of the Movement were. (And those of the Suffragettes before them.) But what’s happening now? People—black and white, men and women—don’t even bother to use their vote. They may vote for President every four years, but the person at the pinnacle has a lot less influence over our daily lives than the people in the state house, the mayor’s office, the township committee, the school board. The candidates are all lousy, you say? Crackpot idealogues? Those people get picked in the primary elections which have even lower voter turnout, except among extremists. When people don’t vote in primaries, every extremist’s vote counts more.

Further, the justifiable pride being expressed regarding the accomplishments of the heroes of Selma should be turned into anger at the way the Voting Rights Act is now being chipped away in state legislatures. New restrictions on voters are transparently intended to limit the votes of minority and young people. Perhaps the movie will be popular in these groups and be an educational and motivational tool, so that effective campaigns can be mounted against these voting restrictions.

What’s the point of feeling good about this struggle of 50 years ago if we let it lapse into meaninglessness through apathy today? Rev. King believed the power of the vote was the key to changing people’s future, and I believe it would break his heart to see how that right has been degraded.