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PBIFF ’14 Review – “Belle”

April 11, 2014

Screen shot 2014-04-11 at 3.57.45 PMI consider myself a semi-pro when it comes to film festivals at this point. Having attended Sundance, SXSW, Miami, and a few others, the safest bet for any opening night of a film fest is finding the right movie to kickstart it right. The film needs to be a story with a statement, one that will leave an impact on the audience, and sets the tone for the next 7-10 days of fest-ing. Problem is, Palm Beach International Film Festival decided to premiere an extremely underwhelming historical-romantic-drama, that’s already had it’s long winded festival run, not to mention not a single person from cast or crew was in attendance, that film is “Belle”.

Directed by Amma Asante, from a screenplay by Misan Sagay, “Belle” tells the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral, Captain Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode). Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife, Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the color of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. Left to wonder if she will ever find love, Belle falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son, John Davinier (Sam Reid), bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.

We’re now in a post-“12 Years A Slave” world, a film that managed to break grounds and dare to discuss the topic of slavery in brutal/realistic way. “Belle” in a sense is a courtroom based drama, that only has a 10 min courtroom scene at the end of the film. The set up of young Dido’s life is an interesting one, granted, but it’s down played heavily based on the typical costume drama cliches we’ve seen in better films based on it’s genre. The scenes featuring Wilkinson’s Lord Chief Justice are by far the more interesting pieces of the film, and Dido’s stance against the societies keen eye on her is also engaging.

The problem the movie faces however is that it’s simply played as a second fiddle TV drama you’d find on the BBC or in America’s Lifetime Network. It has a bigger budget to back it up, but the movie itself is very plain and by the book. One of the great technical marvels of “12 Years A Slave” was the brilliant cinematography, here it’s too ordinary, with little to no movement, and it doesn’t find a way to broaden the dimensions of the spaces given to us from scene to scene. Like I said, it felt like a cheap TV movie…only with a budget, not a responsible one though.


Aaron Shore, is a contributing blogger for the film sites of Hudak on Hollywood & Midnight Reviews.

You can follow Aaron on Twitter @DoubleAAProd

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