Who is in it?
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Sam Reid, Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon, Penelope Wilton.
What is it about?
One those “we’ll flesh out the life of a real person” period dramas.
Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay was the daughter of a naval officer and a slave, making her upbringing amongst the aristocracy somewhat complicated. Wealthy but illegitimate she needs to navigate a society not wholly comfortable with her race.
Why did I want to watch it?
I really really like the fact that someone made a period drama about a feisty young black woman. This ticks my romcom, period drama and representation boxes. Also I saw a film by Amma Asante called “A Way Of Life” a few years back and it allowed me to answer the question “so how many black, british, female directors can you name?” with “2” (thank you too Gurinder Chanda)
Did I like it?
It was stylishly shot and the performances are first rate across the board, which is only to be expected from such a classy cast. Its themes are straight out of Austen – Love vs Money, can a woman choose who she marries, as you grow how do you learn to define and identify yourself in spite of how others define you. It also tackles Britain’s tricky relationship with slavery.
There is a slight imbalance in that all the characters who are outright horrible to Dido are screamingly racist, whereas their views would have been pretty popular in that society, but Emily Watson’s character straddles the line of discussing how far society is willing to tolerate Dido, as opposed to accept her.
Should you watch it?
I can’t recommend it enough, although, obviously if you hate period dramas then this won’t be your thing and the legal bits are a tad on the dry side.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? http://bechdeltest.com/
It passes both the Bechdel and Racial Bechdel tests. In one scene it passes them both at the same time, which is pretty sweet. This is balanced of course by the fact that after race, the key theme is the fact that women are given a value based both on wealth and status in regards to family or any taints that might be associated with their birth.
Other films it reminds me of:
The Young Victoria, The Duchess, Sense and Sensibility, Amistad
Watch this instead/as well/before/after:
Lost In Austen, another period drama featuring Gugu Mbatha-Raw (although not in period garb), The Good Wife, because really you need to see a bit more of Mathew Goode, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, because Tom Wilkinson is always delightful and Blackadder to ask why Miranda Richardson isn’t working more.
Also A Way of Life to see Amma Asante’s earlier film, although definitely have a Disney film cued up to follow it.