Belle Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ January 20, 2015
Solid performances of a pretty remarkable story.
Super Reviewer
December 16, 2014
A handsome period drama about an admirable young woman who manages to maintain her dignity in a society ruled by certain laws that, as one character puts it, were in fact frameworks for crime - and the gracious script avoids clichés and proves to be surprisingly moving.
Super Reviewer
½ September 1, 2014
An very good historical film tackling slavery, race and the class system in Enlightenment Era Britain. Excellent costumes and locations with a typically outstanding performance by Tom Wilkinson. Gugu Mbatha-Raw portrays strength and incredible vulnerability in a very effective way. Good performances all around -- well, except for Draco Malfoy who bumbles through the plot line like a Slytherin trapped in his Harry Potter school days. Despite Felton and the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time sound editor, the film is really, really worth seeing.
Super Reviewer
½ April 13, 2014
Have you heard about the writing controversy surrounding this film? Director Amma Asante and some of the cast say that the shooting script used while filming was the one written by Asante herself. The writer credited by the WGA wrote a much earlier draft and never met Asante to work with her in pre-produciton. It is great that a historical drama like this made it to theaters. As I thought about it afterwards, I realized that even this film does not quite pass the Bechdel test. Part of it is the time period portrayed, when women were as much property as slaves. However, to focus on a number of women characters and have every conversation between two or more women be about the men in their lives takes some special effort. Amma Asante said in an EW satellite radio interview that she was making a Jane Austen-esque picture. Gugu Mbatha-Raw makes Dido an intriguing heroine in the tradition of Austen, but Sam Reid plays her main love interest, John Davinier, as a hollow, unrealistic, romantic ideal of a man. Perhaps there are way more than enough films with a male fantasy version of the ideal woman to warrant this chiselled, too-perfect character falling for the well-spoken female hero outsider. The sets and costumes are lavish, but, still, I wanted more of the historical court case and less of the fawning over Davinier.
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
½ October 5, 2014
"Belle... the Lord and I have been friends for a mighty long time." You're chillin' out to some Al Green on CJEZ-Listening, because in a film titled "Belle" that is kind of about black people problems, which other musician are you going to make a reference to? There are plenty of songs of this film's name to pick from, because this film's title is pretty generic, although when it comes to the film itself, it is refreshing to see a British film about prejudice against blacks... and in British films actually set in Britain (You sure wouldn't forget that "12 Years a Slaves" is British if you looked into most of the staff's nationality). Well, it's not that refreshing if you're that one person who is familiar with director Amma Asante, because it's been ten years after "A Way of Life", and she's still on racism, so I reckon even the British sisters have to represent. Hey, I hate how black people were treated all over the world, and are still being treated in certain places, but there's enough carrying on about civil rights in liberal America, and now, "12 Years a Slave" is getting everyone in the UK up in arms. Well, that's probably a good thing, because, again, black people weren't doing so hot outside of America, and someone should address that even the Mulatto royals couldn't catch a break in the 17th century. If nothing else, it should make for an engaging story, and sure enough, it does here, even if this film tries a little too much harder than "12 Years a Slave" to be British.

This film is so British that it comes complete with a great deal of dryness, with often bitingly witty, but stuffy dialogue and a subdued atmosphere which render the film, maybe not dull, but a little bland especially when the narrative is dragged out. There was never to be all that much activity in this film, not with a minimalist story concept that I will touch more upon here in a second, but just over 100 minutes still feels too long for momentum to be maintained within the storytelling that ends up dragging its way to a predictable point. British-grade dryness is not the only familiar trait in this film, which is generic something fierce as a predictable, trope-heavy portrait on high-class affairs in 18th century London, no matter how much they incorporate elements regarding race relations that are themselves conventional. This really is nothing new, to my surprise, and this film cannot afford to be so predictable, because, again, its story is thin enough as it is, carrying intriguingly worthy themes and heart, but basing it all around idle chit-chat and subdued action that the filmmakers sometimes try too hard to compensate for. Timely melodramatics come off as cloying from time to time, when Amma Asante's direction imbues the atmosphere with a sentimentality that could itself be compensated for if this film, even with its natural shortcomings, had some sort of edge, and didn't tap dance around strikingly harrowing visuals or a consistency in issues which would supplement the genuineness and the overall effectiveness of the thematic weight of this drama on racism and typical high-class issues. Let me tell you right now that if this story was told by a liberal American, it would have beaten you half to death with its themes, and as things stand, no matter how passionate Asante may be about ethnicity's rocky history in British society, - whose race issues have admittedly been underexplored in film - the overt subtlety counteracts many of the subtlety issues, but there is too much sensitivity and ambition in this dramatic interpretation of a story of only so much meat, and nearly no real originality. The final product ultimately sputters out quite a ways shy of what it wants to be, yet it does actually come close enough to endear, and immerse.

Claudio Campa's and Ben Smith's immersive art direction is not particularly unique, although it is pretty lavish, joining production designer Simon Bowles and costume designer Anushia Nieradzik in restoring upper-class London with an extensive craftsmanship and handsomeness. Ben Smithard's cinematography further define the film's good looks, too chilled in color to stun, yet clean and well-lit enough to catch your eye time and again, while a score by the great Rachel Portman proves to beautiful in its violin-driven sentimentality, in spite of its being conventional and often abused by director Amma Asante at the expense of full dramatic subtlety. Asante is either overblown with her dramatic atmosphere or overly safe with her portrayal of pressing issues within the subject matter, and yet, she never gets too cloying, nor does she ever get too safe, and when she finds a proper balance in dramatic storytelling, her efforts resonate, compelling you with glimpses of what could have been. Indeed, there is some potential in this imagination of events surrounding a painting of the titular Dido Elizabeth Belle, which is melodramatic sure, but no more so than the usual British drama of this nature, being generally convincing, if familiar, and intimate, if minimalist, with themes on British race relations, challenging tradition with true love, and conflicts in family and honor. This subject matter does have a lot of promise, and for betrayal screenwriter Misan Sagay places against the potential, she delivers on enough sharp and recurring dialogue to hold your attention, and enough busy set pieces to keep dullness at bay, while fleshing out nuanced, compelling characters whose human value plays as instrumental a role as anything in making the film as engaging as it ultimately is. Quite frankly, it may be the performances that bring to such a point, for it is the portrayal of compelling characters that most compels, with standouts including Tom Wilkinson as a man of an integrity he aims to maintain alongside the love of his apparently blemished family, the lovely Sarah Gadon as a lady who fears for her struggles and the struggles of her best friend, Sam "Aussie Armie Hammer" Reid as an open-minded humanist with a questionable love interest, and, of course, leading lady Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a respectable, good-hearted lady who must face emotional devastation and uphold composure against the oppressions that fall over her as both a woman of black blood, and as a woman in general. Mbatha-Raw is not given the material to be stellar, but she is a revelation, a worthy, driving lead who helps greatly in defining the final product as compelling, in spite of its natural and consequential shortcomings.

Overall, the film is a little blandly dry and tends to drag its feet, not unlike other British films of its type, but the tropes don't end there in this generic, conceptually thin, and either sentimentally or safely drawn story, thus, the final product fails to reward, but through immersive art direction, beautiful cinematography and score work, and a largely worthy story, brought to life by heartfelt direction and writing, and carried by a solid cast, Amma Asante's "Belle" stands as an improvable, but admirable portrait on racial and high-class social issues in 18th century England.

2.75/5 - Decent
Super Reviewer
May 13, 2014
Gugu Mbatha-Raw shine here. I loved her in Larry Crowne and on the first season of the Fox TV show, Touch. She does an amazing job here in Belle. The film itself is very good. It has a Merchant Ivory feel to it. Beautifully shot and edited. It kind of reminded me of, in a weird way, Pride and Prejudice, and An Ideal Husband.

Amma Asante did a great directing job here. Tom Wilkinson also shines in the film. Sam Reid is very good and has a great on screen chemistry with Gugu. Matthew Goode is also good in his brief role as Belle's father. Also solid supporting work from Sarah Gadon, Tom Felton, Emily Watson, and Miranda Richardson.

The only negative with the movie, is when the studio released it. The studio should have released the film in the fall, instead of the summer. By releasing it in the summer, the film has a small chance of being noticed for any Oscar consideration. Had the film been released in the fall, the film's Oscar chances would have been greater.

I definitely recommend this film, especially for Gugu's performance.
Super Reviewer
April 20, 2014
Based on a 1779 painting of the real life Dido Elizabeth Belle next to her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, the film is just as much about extrapolating on what Dido's life could have been like as it is about introducing the unflinchingly gorgeous Gugu Mbatha-Raw to the world. With such exotic features, I found myself hypnotized as she effortlessly strolls around in some of the most vibrant and intricate dresses and sets of that period, stealing every scene that she graces. The character of Dido Belle is also the perfect launching point for Mbatha-Raw, as she plays a strong-willed, opinionated beauty who floats between the world of the high class society, including her aunt, uncle, and cousin, and the world of the maids, using the perfect line "how can I be too high in rank to dine with the servants, but too low to dine with the family" to encapsulate this sentiment. Alongside her is an amazing supporting cast, offering some of the best casting in the history of period pieces. Playing her aunt and uncle are Emily Watson Tom Wilkinson, who both have a harshness about them that works perfectly in the progression of Belle winning them over as a child. Her cousin is played by the equally gorgeous Sarah Gadon, who is also allowed to shine in many of her scenes. And drawing the obvious line to "Downton Abbey" even clearer is the casting of Penelope Wilton, longtime "Abbey" alum, as the spinster of the household, Lady Mary Murray. Together, helping to lift Gugu Mbatha-Raw to her best possible performance, "Belle" feels like an event rather than a "Downton Abbey" ripoff, complete with moral dilemmas and pertinent subject matter about race and justice all while providing a glimpse into the 1700's. With such a huge career ahead of Gugu Mbatha-Raw, "Belle" marks one of the best stepping off points an actress could ask for.
Super Reviewer
½ June 12, 2014
This English costume drama is a bit dull but engaging with some really good acting and a strong "true story" narrative. (6-1-2-14)
Super Reviewer
May 7, 2014
Intriguing story, major-league period-piece drama.
April 2, 2015
Great film for the entire family to watch. Amma Asante did an excellent job creating this masterpiece.
December 19, 2014
really enjoyed this! Gugu Mbatha-Raw is such a fresh face. Her role as Dido was refreshing. Her character is very warm, humble, respectable in the midst of the situation that she's in. just an all around good story. not completely predictable.
½ November 10, 2014
This true story about a mixed race child raised by her aristocratic uncle in England starts off a little slow. Belle grows up and learns her limitations of her social life due to her skin color, but finds love anyway in a vicar's son. It is one of those stories about finding true love against society rules, but I got more interested as the film went on, after a slow start. The cast is solid as is Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Belle, who brings heart and conviction to the role.

Grade: B+
½ October 13, 2014
Gugu Mbatha-Raw is someone to be on the watch for, she is outstanding here. Not to mention Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson. Belle is a delightful and fascinating film, definitely worth checking out.
October 12, 2014
Considering how little promotion this movie got, I was very pleasantly surprised at how good it was. The acting is phenomenal and the story definitely kept me interested. I will probably be buying this at some point, since I love films set in this time period.
October 7, 2014
Romantic, inspiring, and strongly performed, Belle is a period piece that transcends its trappings, and becomes a film that has a lot to say about life and the way we see ourselves. Powerfully led by actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, the entire cast of Belle finds the humanity in their characters, and every character feels like a real person. Watching Dido struggle with her self-worth and the problem of racism in the world is so captivating and enthralling that you don't want to look away. I'm not even a big fan of period-piece romances, but this film had my heart crying out for Dido to find true love. It's an incredibly sweet and earnest film, and it deserves every sweet moment it has.
February 9, 2014
What a beautiful love story. Set in a tragic historical period, this movie is heartbreaking and powerfully moving at the same time.
June 4, 2014
Pretty predictable and Austeneque. However, I did learn about the court case of slave ship that drowned it's "cargo" in order to collect the insurance money. The case lead to abolition of slavery in the UK. That was more interesting than the romance.
½ May 16, 2014
Based (not quite closely enough) on the true story of a fascinating figure in British slavery's demise.
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