Fact-based marriage drama 'United Kingdom' comes up short on passion

  • David Oyelowo plays Seretse Khama and Rosamund Pike plays Ruth Williams in the fact-based romance "A United Kingdom."

    David Oyelowo plays Seretse Khama and Rosamund Pike plays Ruth Williams in the fact-based romance "A United Kingdom."

  • Ruth (Rosamund Pike) and Seretse (David Oyelowo) fall in love in England, setting in motion a controversial mixed-race marriage opposed by their governments in "A United Kingdom."

    Ruth (Rosamund Pike) and Seretse (David Oyelowo) fall in love in England, setting in motion a controversial mixed-race marriage opposed by their governments in "A United Kingdom."

 
 
Updated 2/15/2017 6:27 PM

Amma Asante's "A United Kingdom" tells the true story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, whose controversial marriage makes the political conflicts in 2016's mixed-race marriage romance "Loving" look easy-peasy by comparison.

In 1948, when Seretse, the black prince of a British protectorate in Africa called Bechuanaland, married Ruth, a white English office clerk, newspaper headlines screamed "BLACK KING, WHITE QUEEN" and two nations got their political shorts up in bunches.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The couple not only had to deal with the expected disapproval from their families ("You disgust me!" Ruth's dad shouts at her in the movie), Great Britain employed a full-court political press to dissolve their relationship, as did South Africa at the beginning of its new government experiment called "apartheid."

The British government goes so far as to bar Seretse (producer David Oyelowo) from returning to his homeland, even though his pregnant wife (Rosamund Pike) is about to give birth to their first child.

"A United Kingdom" sets out to tell us the story of their love, a force so strong, committed and passionate that had Seretse and Ruth been the tragic couple in Orwell's "1984," the crushing ending might have turned out differently.

But where's that passion?

"A United Kingdom" emanates with the sort of artificial politeness reserved for movies shown during family hour.

Heavy emotions and gut-wrenching conflicts are addressed with such genteel manners you almost forget to become outraged that Britain means to totally control Seretse's country and its resources as new British Prime Minister Winston Churchill institutes a despicable betrayal against the future king.

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Even the beginning of the love affair feels sparkless, although very sincere.

The couple meets when their eyes lock across a crowded room during one enchanted evening at a London Mission Society mixer. (You can practically hear the "South Pacific" score playing.)

She loves his short speeches on justice, equality and peace. (Oyelowo had plenty of practice as Martin Luther King in "Selma.") He presumably likes Ruth's arched eyebrows etched into her forehead.

He professes his love for her, come what may. She says the same. Done!

Both Pike and Oyelowo create immersive, detailed portraits of their characters. Oyelowo even resembles a young Orson Welles when the light hits him at certain angles.

Actor Jack Davenport plays the story's sherry-sipping villain -- Britain's Ambassador Alistair Canning -- with a perfect balance of bureaucratic aloofness and aristocratic disdain.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"A United Kingdom" is a beautifully photographed crowd-pleaser, accompanied by Patrick Doyle's orchestral score constantly reinforcing the main characters' feelings.

At the end of the movie, a crawl tells us of the amazing accomplishments Seretse and Ruth did in their later years.

And you wonder how much more satisfying this movie could have been had these been part of this story.

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