Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 111 mins

Star Rating: 4/5

A SHAMEFUL episode of bigotry during the post-war decline of the British Empire provides rich source material for Amma Asante's handsome and deeply moving love story. Anchored by impassioned performances, A United Kingdom dramatises the true romance of a defiant African prince and a London salesman's daughter, which embroiled two continents in an ugly tug-of-war for supremacy. The central couple are kept apart for many years, including the birth of their first child, and scriptwriter Guy Hibbert captures the terrible injustice and anguish of this period of exile with aplomb. Hibbert also gifts leading man David Oyelowo several barn-storming speeches against apartheid and intolerance.

His unswerving belief that love conquers all, at a time when the world still bears the scars of bitter conflict, galvanises every beautifully composed frame and plucks the (heart)strings of composer Patrick Doyle's lush orchestrations. Cinematographer Sam McCurdy contrasts the industrial grey of London with the sun-baked golds, oranges and browns of southern Africa, a ravishing backdrop where poisonous emotions take root and produce bitter fruit.

Seretse Khama (Oyelowo), heir apparent to the nation of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), is studying law in 1947 London before returning home to lead his people. He has been prepared for this role by his proud uncle Tshekedi (Vusi Kunene) and a council which kowtows to the British. At a dance organised by the London Missionary Society, Seretse falls in love with typist Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), whose bigoted father George (Nicholas Lyndhurst) would never condone the flourishing romance. Unperturbed, the couple marries and Ruth accompanies Seretse to Bechuanaland, where she faces hostility. Meanwhile, the British and the South African government use underhand tactics to separate the lovebirds.

A United Kingdom is a stirring ode to love, distinguished by molten on-screen chemistry between Oyelowo and Pike. Asante elegantly navigates the political quagmire, eschewing heavy-handed sermonising about the controversial inter-racial romance, including powerful scenes of Ruth attempting to win over the sharp-tongued women of Bechuanaland.

Damon Smith