IN an unusual take on the British costume drama, Belle is the story of Dido, the illegitimate child of a British naval officer who is adopted into her father’s family after her mother dies.
So far, so Dickens. The difference is that she is mixed race. She is clever, well-educated, and well-mannered, brought up like her white adoptive sister to act in a ladylike manner, despite the fact that no one is quite sure where she fits into the social milieu of the day.
Dido is played by British-born Gugu Mbatha-Raw who, up until now, you are most likely to have seen playing bit parts in TV series such as Bad Girls or Marple. In fact, the Oxford-born actress (she’s actually from Witney) is reportedly the star turn in this film.
Although you would expect this to be a film about the treatment of minorities — in a period when the only black girls seen in a white household were servants — it actually turns out to be more of a film about the social constraints laid on women in Georgian society. Being forced into marriage with a “suitable” young man is one theme, and the way that women were cosseted from real life like china dolls is another.
However there is also the theme of slavery, with good old Tom Wilkinson stepping in as a judge making a decision on the ethics of the trade.