A United Kingdom is packaged as a romance: The film’s poster shows an embracing interracial couple gazing out over an African sunset. And it is a romance, in that it’s about a man and a woman and they’re in love. But it’s different from your standard will-they-or-won’t-they because they get married within the first few minutes. It’s what happens next—colonialism! racism! history!—that gives the movie its guts. And some heart, too.
David Oyelowo stars as Seretse Khama, a Botswanan man finishing his education in London before taking over for his uncle as king. He falls in love with a white Englishwoman, Ruth (Rosamund Pike), and they get married, and it’s all very nice. But THEN: drama! Geopolitical drama, the best kind. You see, Botswana, then known as Bechuanaland, was ruled by the evil British Empire, one of a handful of European countries that carved itself a piece of Africa to get rich off of because they’re monsters and they could. Nearby, South Africa was enacting a policy known as apartheid, so you can probably guess how popular an African king’s interracial marriage was in the region.
The Botswanan people didn’t want a white ruler, and that included this new white queen—but the film never treats Ruth like a white savior, or tries to position her as a victim of reverse racism (which, reminder, isn’t a real thing). With such huge, potentially self-indulgent themes, A United Kingdom is only a little sentimental, but not saccharine. It’s a beautiful and soothing portrait of how a couple of people can be catalysts for tolerance and change. It’s nice.
No, really—it’s very nice. If you like movies to be an escape from reality, you’ll enjoy watching a movie about real people going up against money-grubbing tyrants and oppressive systems, where #lovewins for real, and where people actually get the change they believe in.