“A United Kingdom” is out in theaters.
For David Oyelowo, who plays the leading role in this historical biopic about forbidden love, it all started in 2010, when he came across Susan Williams’ book, Color Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation. A book about the first President of Botswana, who was forced into exile after marrying a white English girl, it caused an international uproar in the late 1940s, as it occurred just as apartheid was being introduced into South Africa.
“There was something about the two of them, so glamorous and ecstatic to be together, that immediately connected with me and I just had to know more,” he recalls. “I was completely intoxicated by the power their love had over political establishments. It was something very pure and almost diamond-like to me, because it was able to cut through all this prejudice they faced.”
This real-life tale of love conquering insurmountable obstacles became the obsession of the two-time Golden Globe-nominated actor who was a relative unknown at the time. For years, Oyelowo, who was determined to play Seretse, waited patiently for the opportunity to bring it to audiences as it was well before he broke out in several award-winning roles, including playing Martin Luther King, Jr. in Ava DuVernay’s award winning movie “Selma.” It wasn’t long before Rick McCallum, who produced the Anthony Hemingway directed film “Red Tails” in which Oyelowo starred, became attached to the compelling dramas as did the BBC, the BFI and Ingenious who helped bring it to the big screen.
“The magical thing about Seretse and Ruth’s story is that even though it takes place in a political world, at heart it is about the power of love. It’s about how much two people were prepared to sacrifice and fight for their love to be allowed to live,” Oyelowo continues.
For the mixed couple, who met at a London mixer while Seretse was a law student at Oxford, there was more at stake than a trip to the altar. They were aware that interracial marriages were frowned upon, and expected to face some resistance but they did not expect to be caught in a dangerous geopolitical game between the declining British Empire, the apartheid government of South Africa, and a Botswana yearning for independence.
Directed by Amma Asante, whose last film “Belle” also explores an interracial relationship, it’s a slow but brilliant buildup. Asante aptly focuses on the relationship between Seretse and Ruth (Rosamund Pike), skillfully played by both Oyelowo and Pike, before the film gets saddled by the politics of their union.
Filmed on location in Botswana with some scenes shot in the actual house where Ruth and Seretse lived, “A United Kingdom” also stars Jack Davenport, as Sir Alistair Canning, the assertive British diplomat who attempts to break the couple apart any way he can to keep the peace between Britain and South Africa and South African actress Terry Pheto, who plays Seretse’s sister, Naledi.
“I’ve seen a lot of love stories and even a lot of stories from this post-war era but I’d never seen anything at all like this,” confesses Oyelowo. “For me, it shows how love in its purest form isn’t only for the two people who are engaging in it — it bleeds beyond them into the community. It can be very potent force that transcends everything.”
“A United Kingdom” is out in theaters. Check out the trailer below:
Pictured: (top) David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike (middle) Director Amma Asante and David Oyelowo (Photos by Stanislav Honzik)