Let me start off by saying that I’ve been hankering to watch the film since I read the synopsis:
BELLE is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Captain. Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield 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 bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England. (IMDB)
I went to watch Belle with my sister today and, while the previews were still rolling, I squealed at least a dozen times: “Oh my god, oh my god, I’M SO EXCITED!!”
But with great expectation often comes great disappointment.
I would’ve enjoyed this film way more if I hadn’t settled into the theatre expecting a movie with the grittiness of Amistad (1997) and the romance and depth of Pride & Prejudice.
I really, really wanted to like Belle.
But Belle turned out to be (for me) a film that suffered an identity crisis. It didn’t know whether to focus on being a romance or a legal drama, and in its attempt to be both, the film ended up feeling flimsy.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with mixing the drawing-room with the court-room. But Belle didn’t develop both worlds enough. The romance and relationships felt flat. And only a mere glimpse into the ugly reality of the slave-trade politics were offered.
BUT by no means is Belle a flop of a film. This film was sweet and enjoyable to watch, and at times moving. I teared up more than once. Belle was an intensely sympathetic character. And I experienced a few heart-flutters over the romance between Belle and the anti-slavery activist John Davinier.
I’m just frustrated, really. This film had SUCH potential to be both breathlessly romantic and politically powerful — but it only scratched the surface. The entire film was like a really good 2-hour long trailer of a film yet to be made.
(Will people come at me with pitchforks? Because I know a few who absolutely adore the film).
In short, Belle is an occasionally inspirational period drama in which bonnets and heaving bosoms often take the spotlight — at the expense of a potentially gripping courtroom drama. I have no issue with this. My issue is that Belle and Davinier are united by shared political beliefs (about anti-slavery) rather than passion – awkward, considering the fact that the political element of this film doesn’t really take centre stage.
Despite the flaws, however, I still found the film enjoyable.
I’ll rate this film a 7-7.5/10