Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon, Tom Felton, James Norton, Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton
Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, the illegitimate daughter of Royal Navy Captain Sir John Lindsay and a slave, is brought to England after the death of her mother. Her father deposits her in the care of his uncle, Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of England. Lord Mansfield insists Dido is raised under his protection because she shares his name and blood. Young Dido is reared alongside Lord Mansfield's other niece, Elizabeth, who is Caucasian. The two girls quickly become friends and sisters, but as they grow to be of marriageable age, the differences become apparent. Hovering the background is the Zong case. A slave ship master is seeking insurance money for "cargo" he was forced to dump overboard in order to save his ship and his crew; or so he claims.
This is an incredible story that shows the difficulties of being a woman in the 18th century. Dido has money but as a woman of color, what opportunities are available to her? Elizabeth is white, but she's not acknowledged by her father and doesn't even have a dowry. What opportunities are available to her? The answer is marriage, but should they marry for love or social position? What happens if the two are not compatible? This questions complicates the story and turns it into a love triangle. This part of the plot is certain to please fans of period drama movies, literature and old-fashioned romantics. The love story is tied into the questions of race and slavery as Dido begins to question her identity and her social standing while her Papa must make an important decision. The history behind the story is not known on this side of the Atlantic, though I have heard of similar slave ship stories. The plot raises some interesting questions. It's very emotional and moving. I believe the plot would also appeal to lawyers and politicians and those who are interested in debating social issues. Though the Zong incident was horrific, I was glad to learn about it to understand more about slavery through the eyes of Georgian era Britons.
The acting was largely top-notch in this nearly all-star cast. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is not only gorgeous, she is an incredible actress. She has an express face which conveys everything Dido is feeling. There are several key moments when no words are spoken but her actions easily show the meaning of her complicated feelings. Gugu Mbatha-Raw truly makes the story. She sucked me right in with her amazing acting. I don't think the story would have been as appealing if not for her. My only quibble is that as fine an actress as she is, why is she so much lighter than the real Dido Belle?
The supporting actors are also great. Sarah Gadon, as Elizabeth Murray, reminded me a lot of Romola Garai. She's bubbly and expressive. Elizabeth is very innocent and at times, naive. Sarah Gadon displays Elizabeth's emotional journey very well. Tom Wilkinson is fabulous as Lord Mansfield, a man wrestling with his conscience versus his position in Society. Emily Watson as Lady Mansfield has a small role but when she's on screen, I got a sense that Lady Mansfield could end up a Grand Dame worthy of any of Maggie Smith's characters. Miranda Richardson is cast as another waspish lady but she does a fine job portraying the ambitious Lady Ashford. Tom Felton plays her son and I fear the young man has been typecast and will never escape the spectre of Draco Malfoy. Picture Malfoy in a wig and you have James Ashford. The only actor I thought wasn't great was Sam Reid as John Davinier. He picked up speed as he went along but he was fairly wooden in his delivery in the beginning and lacked chemistry with his love interest.
The costumes are exquisite! The colors are rich and the clothing is all so detailed. I love the hats most of all. The men are very handsome but understated in their dark clothing. The women are the peacocks in this version of Georgian England.
The sets are also amazing! The sumptuous houses, the beautiful gardens and the gritty dockside tavern all bring to life different aspects of Georgian life. It was incredible to get a glimpse of Vauxhall in it's heyday. Fans of Georgian and Regency novels will die to see this world brought to life.
The music is beautiful and fits perfectly with the tone of the movie. The soundtrack plays quietly in the background at the right moments and never intrudes on the action of the film.
I highly recommend this movie to anyone who has the opportunity to see it. It's Hollywoodized but a fine film. Pair it with Amazing Grace and then jump across the Atlantic and watch Amistad, 12 Years a Slave and finally, Lincoln.