Friday, July 25, 2014

Belle Review

Belle is a movie that was released back in May in select theaters. It did gain some traction, but not much as its high point was only 525 theaters. Initially it didn't quite peak my interest as I heard almost nothing about it, but some strong recommendations from some friends gave me a desire to search it out. It took a while for me to find a theater that it was playing in, but I finally succeeded. Not only was Belle a very well-made movie, but in fact it was a historical drama about an event that I never knew about, so I walked out of the theater feeling educated. I suppose I had never been instructed much in my life about the history of slavery in England, so I appreciated the history lesson. My recommendation is that if you can find a way to watch this movie, you definitely should.

If you're like me and you've never heard of Dido Elizabeth Belle, let me do my best to educate you without spoiling this movie. Dido was the daughter of Maria Belle, a slave, and Captain John Lindsay, a British naval officer in the latter half of the 1700's. When Dido was young, her father Captain Lindsay took her to his uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, to be raised. William and his wife raised Dido as if she was their own. The controversy with this was that William was the Lord Chief Justice of England at the time and had some pretty big issues to rule on in regards to slavery, which of course gets complicated and emotional when raising an interracial girl as a daughter. The specific case that this movie centers around is the Zong Massacre, wherein a certain slave ship disposed of 142 slaves in order to get insurance compensation. This case proved vital in the eventual abolition of slavery in England.

This might sound a bit weird, but the two movies that were going through my mind as I watched this were Steven Spielberg's Lincoln and the 197-hour long version of Pride & Prejudice -- you know, the TV mini-series from the 90's that ever girl loves? I say Lincoln because that movie is a historical drama about the abolition of slavery in the United States and this movie is a historical drama about the abolition of slavery in England. I say Pride & Prejudice because both movies are period-piece romance dramas, Pride & Prejudice being the 19th century with Belle being late 18th century. As far as that aspect goes, all the romantic drama actually really interested me. The fact that it wasn't the main point of the movie probably helped as well as the fact that it was rather short compared to Pride & Prejudice. We had Dido and her cousin Elizabeth living at the Mansfield home with the males in the movie being the Ashford brothers, Oliver and James, as well John Divinier. Out of the five of these actors, the only one I really recognized was Tom Felton, aka Malfoy, as James Ashford. As far as he goes, I found it amusing that once again he played the idiot. I'm sure Felton is a great guy in real life that has the ability of playing a nice character, but he sure is good at being an idiot and I have a hard time envisioning him as anything else. Back on track, all five of these actors did a great job at their respective roles in really selling all the romantic drama in the movie.

Stealing the show was of course Tom Wilkinson as Lord Mansfield. The political drama between him, Dido, and John Divinier was excellent. The fact that I didn't know the eventual outcome of these historical events made the movie really interesting and Wilkinson really hit a home run with his role. If anyone in this movie were to get an award, Wilkinson would definitely be my vote, although I doubt it will happen -- I don't even think the Academy will remember this movie exists by the time January rolls around. Speaking of Academy Awards, very rarely do I watch a movie and think as it's going that the movie should get nominated for best costume design at the Oscars, but that's what happened here. The 18th century costumes throughout the movie were excellent. Speaking of that period, the music for the movie was very appropriate as much of it came from Handel and Bach.

In the end, Belle is a movie that for whatever reason (advertising/distribution?) got overlooked by general audiences as it only made it into 525 theaters and earned just over $10 million in the box office. However, it deserves a lot more attention than it actually got, so my recommendation is that you find a way to watch this and give it a shot. It is a great period-piece romance/historical drama that is a well-written, well-acted movie that taught me a lesson in history that I didn't know about previously. I was very glad that I searched it out. My grade for Belle is an 8/10.

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