New Photos From Amma Asante’s BELLE Are Here
Fox Searchlight has released 11 new images from director Amma Asante‘s BELLE.
BELLE is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral.
Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the color of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing.
Left to wonder if she will ever find love, Belle falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in 18th century England.
“The power of Gugu, for me, is that she is able to reach inside the character and allow anyone to understand Dido’s unique experience,” says the director. “What she wants is equality. It’s not that nothing is good enough for her, it’s that she wants to be seen as equal to Elizabeth and the other ladies of her status and class at the time. Gugu puts that across fantastically. I knew she would be a good comrade in the process of recreating this 18th century black heroine.”
Standing between Dido Belle and what she wants – both in love and in the changing of the laws that support slavery – is the man who raised her: her great uncle Lord Mansfield, a hugely influential figure right at the peak of the battle against the British slave trade. On the one hand, he is a man devoted to law, order and preserving the British state. But on the other, he is a loving man with a deeply human impulse to treat Dido as he would any family – even if that means controlling who she marries.
“Lord Mansfield is a fascinating character because he really straddles the point of change that is happening at the time we come into this story,” says Amma Asante. “He is a man of conditioning, a man who definitely feels that the world is a better world if rules are in place. But he is also a man of progress, who is able to look forward when many of his peers cannot.”
Asante found it a wonderful historical surprise that Mansfield treated Dido as he did.“He didn’t choose to make Dido a servant, he didn’t choose to hide her – he chose to make her a central part of the family, to enshrine her in the painting that still exists today,” notes Asante. “There aren’t the words for me to express that. I’m in awe of the level of courage that must have taken.”
When Lord Mansfield died in 1793, he left in his will the statement, “I confirm to Dido Elizabeth Belle her freedom,” suggesting the importance of making her status absolutely clear to the world.
Belle passed away tragically young even for those times at age 43 – a few years after the slave trade was abolished — of unknown causes. Her last traceable relative, Harold Davinier, died in 1975, ironically a free white South African living in the era of apartheid.
BELLE had it’s World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, it’s New York Premiere as the Opening Film at the 2014 Athena Film Festival in early February and the United Nations recently screened the film along with Amma Asante and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Watch the video HERE.
Written by Misan Sagay, BELLE’s cast includes Academy Award nominee Tom Wilkinson, Academy Award nominee Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon, Penelope Wilton, Academy Award nominee Miranda Richardson, Tom Felton and Matthew Goode.
BELLE opens in theaters on May 2.
Photos: ©Fox Searchlight Pictures