A film about a noble of mixed race in 18th-century England might evoke a lot of images, thoughts and questions. How would a child of a noble and a black commoner survive in such a rigidly structured society? What would her life be like? All interesting questions...sadly, this film does a remarkably unsatisfying job of answering them.
Dido Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is the mixed-race daughter of Royal Navy captain Sir John Lindsay and his mistress. When the unseen mother dies, Lindsay takes Dido to live with his aunt and uncle, Lord and Lady Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson). Dido lives a sheltered life, with her only companion a beloved cousin, Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon). Now, two very interesting things are happening: First, Dido receives a substantial inheritance when her father dies, but Elizabeth is cut off, leaving prospective suitors to choose between financial incentives and a life free from social controversy. Second, Lord Mansfield, a justice, is hearing a case about a slave ship that jettisoned its human cargo after discovering the slaves were sick and unmarketable.
Honestly, I don’t know how a film about such a fascinating—and true—subject could be so predictable. I found myself reciting lines before they left the mouths of the characters. All in all, it’s an enjoyable film, it’s just hard to see how such a powder keg of issues could burn so slowly. It’s a 6.