A United Kingdom: A display of potent dialogue

A United Kingdom is based on the true- life of Sir Seretse Khama and his wife Ruth Williams Khama
A United Kingdom is based on the true- life of Sir Seretse Khama and his wife Ruth Williams Khama

These days its like movie lines aren’t exciting anymore. We no longer recite and repeat them. We don’t know them by heart the way we used to echo lines from great movies like The Godfather and Hard Target.

Movie dialogues are one of the most important aspects of movies and have the potential to make and break a work of film.

Recently the local media was given a chance to see the screening of a biographical romantic drama film entitled A United Kingdom at Capitol Cinemas at Masa Square in Gaborone.

Dubbed as the most anticipated movie of Botswana’s 50th year of independence, A United Kingdom is directed by Amma Asante and is based on the true-life romance of Sir Seretse Khama and his wife Ruth Williams Khama. Susan Williams based it on the book Colour Bar. 

Even though the makers didn’t incorporate a lot of Setswana language like it should have been, the overall movie dialogue was great. Guy Hibbert, the man behind the screenplay managed to surpass something that is extremely hard to get right.

Be it a funny or emotional line, the movie dialogue in A United Kingdom makes the movie quotable. The introductory scene where Bangwato Regent Tshekedi Khama (Vusi Kunene) was writing a letter to his nephew and rightful heir Seretse introduces the viewers to a ostensibly unbreakable bond between the two. The line “You left a boy and now you must return a man” demonstrated what the tribe expected from Seretse upon his return from studies.

Seretse was living in the 1947 London and the story unfolded when he met Ruth Williams at a London Missionary Society dance. Even though Ruth was only there by invitation from her Sister Muriel, that is when her life changed for the better and later found herself looking for Bechuanaland in the world map.

Played by Rosamund Pike, the beautiful blonde Ruth was very inquisitive about the black African student who happens to be an heir in one of the powerful tribes in the country.  “Who are you Mr. Khama?” is what Ruth asked in one of the scenes and it creates interest for someone who had never heard of the name Seretse before.

But Ruth knew what the road was leading to and her parents wouldn’t have approved her relationship with a black man. 

“He is clever than him and he is black,” at least that’s what her sister Muriel tried to tell her but she was adamant on her decision to marry Seretse. “It scares me a bit the way he makes me feel,” she confessed.

It was a scary love story and but it was bound to meet challenges on the way. “I can’t see you again, not if you choose him,” that was the most hurtful words any daughter could hear from her father but Ruth had to accept it like a grown up woman.

From the old and tall London buildings, we found ourselves visually hauled through the dusty and refreshing wilderness of Africa. Via the lens, right onto the widescreen, the cinematographer was able to capture the feeling as the ‘African King’ and his queen landed on Bechuanaland soil.

The married couple expected a warm welcome but Batswana tell it like it is and that’s when Ruth had to accept acidic showers from Seretse’s aunt (Tshekedi’s wife) and sister Naledi Khama. “You belong to the whites and they wouldn’t accept you either,” the hateful words gushed out of Naledi (Terry Pheto) straight into Ruth’s hapless eyes.

At this moment any viewer would feel sorry for the English woman who left her work as a clerk in London to become a Queen in an unknown land under the British Protectorate.

Tshekedi who had a father-son like relationship with Seretse wouldn’t approve a white woman as a queen of his tribe.  But Ruth stood by her husband despite the attempts to oust him as the rightful heir to the throne. “If my husband is having lemonade I will have lemonade,” she stood her ground.

The scene where Seretse opens up his heart to his tribe was intriguing with tears falling down his cheeks while the crowd silently stared at him. The close ups of the tribe’s faces showed no emotion and it was hard to get what they were thinking especially that there was no dialogue. Perhaps David Oyelowo should have addressed the Kgotla in Setswana but couldn’t because he is a British Nigerian actor. His accent was exposed where he uttered words like Bagaetsho and Pula.

While the story of Seretse and Ruth is documented in books, the movie goes on to explore the unknown challenges encountered by the Romeo and Juliet couple. Seretse was tricked into returning to the UK by the British government and then banished from Bechuanaland for five years. The Prime Minister Winston Churchill betrayed him and later changed the banishment to life.

Besides the great dialogue, the producers did try to capture the atmosphere of Bechuanaland at the time with bare dusty fields, the lamps during the night at the Palapye Hotel, the huts, the livestock and the villagers’ costumes. The shots of boys climbing trees to overhear Kgotla discussions let us know that we are in Africa. The women whispering in the background as Ruth was trying to learn Setswana language also showed the gossip habit of women in Africa.

The movie was well executed in terms of addressing societal disproval of interracial marriages at the time. A United Kingdom puts across the subject of perseverance, resistance, and courage. For every good triumph story the actors have to suffer and it was great to see the characters of Ruth and Seretse endure the intricacy brought about by their relationship.

It was a great movie about a tribe that learnt to accept and love someone from a totally different background. The couple’s new baby Jacqueline Khama AKA ‘The sweet one’ also brought hope to the resolute couple and the tribe.  

It is an international movie therefore one would have expected more locals to take the bigger roles and perhaps penetrate the seemingly unbreakable market. It was not a barnstorming performance from the lead cast thus the makers of the movie should have created space for the locals to shine.

Overall, the movie had a wonderful dialogue and anyone would love to talk the way that those characters did in the movie.

Editor's Comment
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