Based on a powerful true story from the late 1940s, this drama is packed with present-day resonance as it explores a relationship that sparks intense social and political fallout. And it's made properly engaging with central roles beautifully played by David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. So it's a shame that the screenplay is so simplistic, failing to generate any momentum in the story with its awkward structure and paper-thin side characters.
It opens in 1947, as Seretse Khama (Oyelowo) has spent 20 years of his life studying in London and is ready to return to Bechuanaland (now Botswana) to take his rightful place as king. But he has fallen in love with white, working-class Englishwoman Ruth (Pike), and they decide to return to Africa together. This causes a crisis for Seretse's uncle Tshkedi (Vusi Kunene), who has been ruling the country while Seretse was away. And there's even more fierce resistance from the British colonial officials (including Jack Davenport and Tom Felton), who refuse to allow the couple to live together in Bechuanaland because a mixed-race marriage undermines the UK's acceptance of South Africa's policy of Apartheid. So they exile Seretse from the country and manipulate the situation to Britain's political benefit. But Ruth stays and fights on.
The film chronicles this astonishing battle with a fascinating attention to detail, although screenwriter Guy Hibbert struggles to avoid repetition as the events shift between Africa and London, leaving main characters off the screen for what turns out to be years at a time. Meanwhile, the British are portrayed as moustache-twirling villains who lie and conspire to undermine the government of Bechuanaland. A bit more complexity might have made the situation compelling on-screen.
Continue reading: A United Kingdom Review
Once upon a time, a handsome, intelligent man fell in love with an equally clever and intelligent woman, the couple married and lived happily ever after. Ruth Williams and Seretse Khama met in Britain in 1947, he was a young man training to be a barrister and she was a clerk working for Lloyds of London.
The pair immediately felt an affinity for one another and courted for a year before Seretse and Ruth married. As well as being an interracial couple, Seretse has a lot more to his past than Ruth ever knew. Seretse is a prince of Bechuanaland and lives a hugely important life in a county that feels a whole world away from the comparatively cosmopolitan London.
Though Ruth and Seretse married - much against the advice of all their peers - apartheid in South Africa, the people of Bechuanaland and the British government all played a part in keeping Sertse from his birth right and went to extreme lengths to have the couple extradited from the country.
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Kristian Levring's The King is Alive operates on a conceptual, pseudo-intellectual level, perhaps a touch too orderly to convey true madness. As the players become embroiled in King Lear, jealous Catherine (Romane Bohringer) plots against young hipster Gina (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who won the much-envied role of Cordelia. Meanwhile, disgruntled housewife Liz (McTeer) seduces the exotic black bus driver (Vusi Kunene) before the very eyes of her passive husband (Bruce Davison). As the actor playing King Lear (Brion James) quickly falls to pieces from dysentery, the scholarly director (David Bradley) watches the proceedings with detached malice, chuckling, "Is man no more than this?" And whatever became of Aussie survivalist Jack (Miles Anderson), who took off into the desert to find help?
Continue reading: The King Is Alive Review
Lost in the African desert after their bus breaks down far off the beaten path, a handful of European tourists try to maintain sanity and civility by distracting themselves with ad hoc rehearsals for a do-it-yourself "King Lear" production in "The King Is Alive."
What comes of the experience, however, is not a productive pulling together. Bouts of bitterness quickly arise between couples, base behavior surfaces among those who feel they have nothing to lose, and with the portent of possible death looming as large as the blistering desert sun, individuals turn inward to face their own demons. Sanity and civility hang on by a very thin thread.
Co-written and directed by Kristian Levring as his contribution to the Dogme95 collective -- a quartet of Dutch filmmakers experimenting with cinematic minimalism -- the film's vérité style of handheld cameras and natural light (per the Dogme rules) makes it pop with tension and raw emotion as the tourists unravel.
Continue reading: The King Is Alive Review
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