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A United Kingdom (Blu-ray Review)

Not that all similar films need to be mentioned together, but 2016 offered two films that dealt with important interracial relationships that helped shape history. One was the Oscar-nominated Loving from director Jeff Nichols, which focused on an American couple. The other is A United Kingdom, from director Amma Asante (Belle). While having received good notices at various film festivals and carrying that goodwill toward strong enough reviews, A United Kingdom was only able to garner a small release in America. Still, the film made back its budget and only added to the resumes of the various talented players involved. Now the film is available on Blu-ray for everyone to check out.

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Film:

Beginning in 1947, the film tells the romance story of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). Seretse is the heir to the throne in Bechuanaland (known now as Batswana) and currently studying law in London. He meets Rose, and they share an attraction to each other based on both their beliefs and appreciation for American jazz. Despite protests from their families and the British government, the two get married. There are further concerns from the government as far as how this interracial relationship may affect the stability of the Southern African region as far as the British exploitation of resources. Regardless, the two move back to Bechuanaland and face new trials and tribulations home and abroad, given how a quest for love ends up being a turning point in history.

My biggest concern going into A United Kingdom was whether or not it was going to be a “Wikipedia Movie” – a film that feels like a cinematic take on what can be summarized in several paragraphs on that site. Fortunately, the film does not become too affected by this notion. At under two hours, the film manages to slip in just enough information to keep up a level of context but highlights the story that needs to be told, which is one of love. There are some messy politics at play (embodied by sinister government officials played by Jack Davenport, among others, and the mention of Apartheid), but the film is at its most comfortable when keeping Oyelowo and Pike together.

A challenge is naturally presented when the two are separated for various reasons towards the end of the second act, but this is a film where the goodness of Seretse and Ruth is what an audience most wants to be in favor of. Asante and screenwriter Guy Hibbert (who also wrote 2016’s mostly great thriller Eye in the Sky) get this and do their best to shoot and craft scenes around these two with lots of care.

Shot on location in both London and Botswana, you can see the care in the scenes placing the couple together, as the sunlight is utilized in a classical sense to bathe them in light in Africa and London’s fogginess is no bother because of splendid indoor scenes that have a warmth to them. This comes opposed to the colder scenes where bureaucracy tries to get in the way, or Seretse finds himself being discriminated against.

The film also finds a lot of time to capitalize on big speech moments. There are maybe too many of these, but they tend to highlight the kind of progressive good that change can make were everyone to accept the relationship between Seretse and Rose, let alone find a way to be governed without the harsh restrictions that plagued various nations. It is no coincidence that A United Kingdom was scheduled to premiere on the 50th anniversary of independence in Botswana, but it doesn’t hurt to see the film highlighting a story perhaps not that familiar to many here in America that seem to have some social relevance.

Whatever the case, A United Kingdom does its job in telling a solid story and letting Oyelowo and Pike continue to show just how capable they are as performers. There’s also Asante continuing to show confidence behind the camera.  This period romance drama is well done, with just enough historical context to give it the semblance of an “important” film, without feeling like homework.

Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Clarity/Detail: It was clear things were in good shape when realizing the film would start in London, as opposed to the more visually arresting Africa and still managed to look quite good. This video transfer manages to convey a lot of the period details that went into this production effectively enough. The clarity allows for some of the more classical filmmaking scenes to have the required effect, as the warmth and use of light plays well on this Blu-ray.

Depth: Good spacing seen throughout this film. The depth and distance is well-handled for this video transfer.

Black Levels: Black levels are deep and inky throughout. No signs of crush and the numerous indoor scenes and nighttime moments come across without a loss of detail.

Color Reproduction: Colors really pop here. Costumes and various settings allow for lots of good looks at color and this disc delivers. The sunny atmosphere in Africa really helps to emphasize this as well.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures register strongly here. You get a lot of close ups that do their job to reflect the actors properly. A good amount of detail fairs very well with the design of the film in general.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing of note.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English 7.1 DTS-HD MA, English Descriptive Audio 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics: It was a nice surprise to learn a 7.1 Master Audio track was provided for this release, though the film is pretty subtle in delivery and really doesn’t feature large scenes that call attention to much. The presentation is appreciated though, as the film does sound great.

Low Frequency Extension: Some moments provided by the score help give the LFE channel something to do.

Surround Sound Presentation: A good balance is had on this track. The dialogue is obviously center-focused, but the film’s production allows for a spreading of the other auditory elements, which plays very well for this film.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is loud and clear.

 

Extras:

As a producer and star, it would have been nice to see Oyelowo sit down with Asante for a commentary track like he did with Ava DuVernay for Selma, but as it stands, we just get a few featurettes.

Features Include:

  • Making Of (HD, 6:19) – Standard EPK material.
  • Filming in Botswana (HD, 6:06) – A look at the locations used for the film.
  • The Legacy of Seretse and Ruth (HD, 3:48) – A brief historical piece on the actual couple.
  • London Film Festival Opening Night Gala Premiere (HD, 6:08) – Red carpet footage.
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:23)
  • DVD Copy of the Film
  • Digital HD Copy of the Film

 

Summary:

What may come across as homework to some actually plays as a strong romance drama. It hits some familiar beats and plays into a structure that you may have seen before, but the filmmaking and performances sell it. The Blu-ray features strong audio and video presentations and there are a collection of short featurettes to round it all out. Not bad for a small release that is quite good for a rental or perhaps a full purchase.

 

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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