Belle (2013)

(On Cable TV, October 2015)  There is often a tension, in modern-made period films, between the most idealized aspects of the era being presented and the modern values we wish they’d embody.  Classic examples include Victorian Britain, as confronted with their terrible record on human rights; Antebellum Southern United States and slavery; the suburbs of the nineteen-fifties and the place left to women.  (Heck, any historical period in Western history featuring anyone who wasn’t a straight white male.)  But it’s occasionally possible to find a topic that manages to address both kinds of wish-fulfillment, and that’s something that Belle accomplishes quite well.  The story of a half-black woman raised as an equal in a rich British families in the late 1700s, Belle builds its dramatic tension based on what we expect from such an era, and resolves them by showing ordinary people acting decently.  Here really isn’t much more to that: the film’s big conflict is solved by revealing a panting (a real-life painting, as it turns out).  As far as progressive-values film go, it’s basic but enjoyable – the period garb look fantastic, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is lovely in the lead role, director Amma Asante does well and Tom Wilkinson continues a highly successful string of good supporting roles.  Belle doesn’t need to be much more than be amiable and look good, and it does that well. 

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