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Belle director Amma Asante and lead actor Gugu Mbatha-Raw discuss how they brought the tale of a mixed-race aristocrat to life. The pair reveal the challenges of telling Dido Elizabeth Belle’s coming-of-age story and talk about grounding a romance within an 18th-century political context.
[Clip from film Belle (2013)]
Dido, my dear.
Good lord; it's a negro. She really is…
A lady. Capital.
I had no idea she'd be so black.
Did you not listen to the rumours when you were spreading them, mama?
[End of clip]
It was very important that we got an actress who could get that balance right and could be likable that you would like and who you would empathize with and who's predicament you would understand and feel for. That's something that I felt that Gugu was able to put across fantastically. Plus she's really beautiful. So that didn't harm things either. She's got a face, kind of, built for the 18th century. I just knew that the costumes would look fantastic on her. I wanted a comrade in the process, someone who was going to be as excited as I was to be able to tell this 18th century story of a black heroine.
I think people think that people of dual heritage are somewhat of a modern concept or of the 20th century, and actually it's really not. The fact that Dido was really a pioneer for her time and she really existed, is sort of amazing to me. I sort of thought to do justice to her, her story needed to be known.
[Clip from Belle]
We shall be receiving visitors for dinner.
Visitors? Who ever bothers to visit us here?
Or leave except the dead?
Once again, Dido?
Beds, Aunt Mary. We should prepare some extra beds in case our visitors are to stay.
May we wear the new silks?
I will do your hair Bette. Oh, say we may wear them Aunt Mary.
You will not be dining with us, Dido.
She very much goes, I think, from a girl who starts off saying, "As you wish, sir," to a woman who says, "As I wish. It's what I want. It's what I need. It's what important to me," and not because she's being selfish. Not because she's a privileged young woman who's demanding more, but because she's a woman who's saying, "I want equality. I would like equality within my own household and within my own world, that I exist in."
You understand the ways of the world for a female, Dido. Elizabeth has no income.
You are to meet as many gentlemen as possible before we make the match.
When all this has gone to her father there will be nothing left for her.
Any gentleman of good breeding would be unlikely to form a serious attachment to Dido and a man without would lower her position in society.
She's not merely my cousin, mama.
She is my sister.
These are the keys of the house.
I cannot attend London without her.
They have hung at the waist of your aunt for the last thirty years.
I am not lady Mary. I am not an unwanted maid.
There's a massive journey for Dido. She really goes from a girl to a woman in this story. It's somewhat of a coming of age tale. She also has her sort of political awakening if you like. The story has all of the romance of a Jane Austen novel, but at the same time is very much grounded in the political context of the time.
A United Kingdom
Living in the Lie
Walking the Tightrope
More about Amma Asante
Lost in Austen[03/09/2008]
Lost in Austen[24/09/2008]
More about Gugu Mbatha-Raw
, Tom Wilkinson
, Sam Reid
More about Belle
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