With the twist of approaching the issue of race in the 18th century, Belle is like any other period drama. With such traditional and unremarkable direction, it feels stilted and plain. Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy officer, left in the care of her Uncle (Tom Wilkinson), raised as an aristocrat and looking to marry. It’s painfully sub-Jane Austen in it’s approach to 18th century manners and relationships, laden with courting and snide upper class bitching. Director Amma Asante plays everything safe, producing an exhausting hour and three quarters of snobbery, with everyone speaking like they are in a period drama. It’s a story with a worthy and important conclusion which actually manages to feel more like an exoneration of white guilt than anything punchy, mainly because of the film’s lack of distinctiveness and stiff direction.
Belle is out now in the UK. Running time 104 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).
Review by David Rank