*** out of ****
Currently in theaters, Belle is finding an appreciative audience. It is a well-shot, well-edited, well-acted and engaging as a historical melodrama. The film would have a little more of my respect had it not sacrificed plausibility for crowd-pleasing moments.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw lights up the screen with a beautiful lead performance as Dido Elizabeth Belle. This woman was an exceptional case in British Aristocratic history as she was the offspring of a Naval Captain and a slave woman. Left in the care of her Uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) she grew up alongside her cousin, Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon). A famous painting of the two preserves Dido’s history. The film is very clever in putting emphasis on this painting as its inspiration.
The supporting cast also includes other seasoned performers, such as Penelope Wilton, Emily Watson, Matthew Goode, Miranda Richardson, Sam Reid and Draco Malfoy.
Left to inherit her father’s estate, Dido was given a high rank but the story is about her struggle to find a place when her ethnicity creates social limitations. A very Austenesque plot is fabricated involving suitors for Dido and her cousin -as well as a legal drama surrounding a slave-trade scandal for which Mansfield presided as judge.
In its history lessons and embellishments, the filmmakers mold everything into a rather beautiful experience. Unfortunately, some artistic liberties seem too obvious. Without going into spoilers, I’ll just say that they save the most ridiculous for last.