Political Film Review #532

BOTSWANA STRUGGLES FOR INDEPENDENCE IN A UNITED KINGDOM
Prince Seretse Khama (played by David Oyelowo), the heir to the kingdom of Bechuanaland, was only 4 years old when his father dies, so his uncle Charles (Arnold Oseng) not only serves as Regent but also rears him until he goes away to London for school, eventually enrolling at Oxford. At the time, his country is a protectorate of Britain. While still in Britain at the age of 26, his intelligent conversation at a party catches the attention of Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). When they go out on dates, they meet in public rather than at her residence because of family prejudice against interracial dating, and they soon fall in love. When Seretse is summoned to return as king of his country, he proposes marriage, but Ruth’s father is extremely upset, and the British government of Clement Attlee warns Seretse that Bechuanalanders will not allow the two to reign as king and queen, fearing that South Africa might retaliate against Britain economically. Seretse responds that such a decision to accept or reject should be made democratically by a tribal council. When the couple arrives in Bechuanaland, the couple discover that to a reigning mixed couple is from Seretse’s uncle and his sister Naledi (Terry Pheto). The uncle demands that the marriage be dissolved so that Seretse can become the new king, but Seretse refuses to comply. A tribal council is soon held, the uncle makes his case, followed by Seretse, and the young king receives overwhelming support. But the uncle then takes a group of dissidents to resettle in a part of the country to avoid conflict. The British colonial administrator tricks the couple into returning to Britain during 1951 to resolve the conflict over a split in the jurisdiction. But Ruth remains and gets integrated into the life of the community, while Seretse flies to London. On arrival, Seretse is informed that he has been banished from returning to his country for five years, citing a confidential report on his fitness to rule. The real reason is that South Africa has adopted apartheid in 1948 and is upset that a mixed couple will be in power in adjacent Bechuanaland, where diamonds have been discovered that Britain seeks to exploit. After writing Ruth to keep her abreast of the situation, she is featured in a documentary film pleading for justice. Winston Churchill, campaigning for election in 1951, promises that the five-year ban will be lifted. When Churchill’s party wins, he does indeed lift the five-year ban only to impose a lifetime ban. Ruth then flies to London with their new child to join in the struggle. In 1956, the couple returns to Bechuanaland, though director Amma Asante then features how Seretse negotiates a solution to the conflict with his uncle. They agree that the kingdom should be dissolved so that the country should adopt democracy, a decision upheld by the tribal council, and independence is granted in 1966. (In fact, Seretse resigns his position as king, takes up cattle ranching, and then enters politics as the country seeks independence. Seretse is elected prime minister in 1965. A new constitution is adopted, and he is elected president in 1966 just before independence.) The Political Film Society has nominated A United Kingdom as best film of 2017 for all four categories—best film on democracy, human rights, and peace as well as best film exposé. MH