Buried Under English Jargon

Belle (2014)
A Review By Ben Hunter
4 Out Of 5 Stars


A very digestible and engaging story to invest in, even if buried under 17th Century English jargon.


Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), “Dido Lindsay”, “Dido” (“dye-dough”), the inspiration behind the fictional period drama, Belle, set right outside of London in the late 1700’s.  Dido’s story is based on the real girl and the painting that derived with her and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray.  Dido was the daughter of an enslaved African woman of the West Indies and Sir John Lindsay, a British Royal Navy Officer (Matthew Goode).  So Dido was a caramel colored, “mixed” girl.  But she looked black.  So 1779 London, it was definitely a major social, political, and just about every other type of issue one could concoct, when a teenage black girl and her white cousin are the focus of a painting belonging to a high ranking Judge, 1st Earl of Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice (Tom Wilkinson), the man who raised Dido due to her father’s time at sea.

Lord Mansfield and his family learn to love the girl, but only to what seems as an extent.  For they know that people of darker colors are treated as inferior.  So Dido is forced and is used to dining in different quarters than with her family, the only family she’s ever truly known.  She feels out of place, higher than the black help, but lower than the higher-class white family she lives with.  Dido struggles to find her place while sorting out how to go about courting a man into marriage and the position she should stand for.

This is during the time of the “Zong Massacre”, when slave owners would toss slaves or “property” overboard to collect on the insurance money.  Lord Mansfield rules on the case along with the other judges in accord in what is known as a heavily majored participant in the issue of slavery in Britain. 

Mbatha-Raw gives a convincing performance that invites one into her life with interest.  I can tell she’s classically trained and up for a bright future with the right amount of work.  With a name like “Gugu Mbatha-Raw”, I do feel like we’re all just going to start referring to her from now on as “Belle”.  Which is what I would’ve liked her to be referenced as throughout this story.  “Belle” is much more appealing of a name than “Dido” which makes me think of “dildo”, a not so appealing of a name.  But to call it “Belle” and never reference that name except for the beginning when we learn what it means is kind of misleading.  There are abounding titles alive with presence to capture the theme of this story that would’ve sufficed. 

Still, the story flowed easily from one point to the next, even buried under 17th century English jargon.   Tom Felton (“Malfoy” from Harry Potter) is even apart, encased in his usual role of villainy.  It was quite interesting to learn that a 20 something, young black girl played a part in major events that shaped the entire country of Britain.  Which means to me that it’s a digestible story worth taking the time to experience, which any mature audience can partake of searching for a little more than gun chases, sex, and explosions.  However, with all the talk of love and following one’s heart to where it truly lay, a sexual explosion of some caliber wouldn’t have agonized. 

Drama, 104 Minutes, PG
Written by: Misan Sagay
Directed by: Amma Asante
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon, Tom Felton, & Tom Wilkinson 

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