In 1947, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), a young man from the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, in southern Africa, is studying in London. Upon his return, he will claim his seat as king of his tribe. But at a dance, he meets Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a secretary. They court, marry and make plans to set up their new life in Bechuanaland. Though their interracial marriage is legal, it is frowned upon by Ruth’s working-class family; Seretse’s tribe (which resents that a white Englishwoman will be their queen); and the British government, which is engaged in some tricky diplomatic negotiations with Bechuanaland’s neighbor, South Africa. Nonetheless, the couple moves to the tribal region, and suffers through a series of personal and political crises, determined that their love for each other, and a hope in people’s general sense of fair play, will see them out.
The film, directed by Amma Asante (Belle), is an old-fashioned, golden-toned melodrama, set against a backdrop of historical political intrigue. Oyelowo and Pike make attractive leads — particularly when contrasted with the cold-hearted, sherry-sipping, upper-crusty British bureaucrats — and naturally, you’ll root for their success. If you see a lot of these uplifting “based on a true story” films, you’ll note the genre’s typical pitfalls: narrative shortcuts and embellishments, stock characters and feel-bad/feel-good beats that such scripts demand when recounting a complex story. And this film is no exception. That doesn’t make it a bad film, nor does it undermine its pleasures; certainly, this is an interesting chapter of history, and I looked forward (as always) to seeing photos of the real-life people during the closing credits. Spoiler alert: Bechuanaland turns into Botswana. Starts Fri., March 3. Galleria 6, South Hills