At First Glance: “Belle”

After having seen, for a while when visiting home, the 30 second spots for this film, I finally decided to look deeper at what this is actually about.

This, at long last, led me to the trailer for the Fox Searchlight Pictures film “Belle”. This film originally premiered as an official selection of the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 8, 2013, and finally debuted in the US on May 2, 2014.

This dramatic film is based on a true story and stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Odd Thomas”, “Larry Crowne”), Tom Wilkinson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Michael Clayton”), Miranda Richardson (“World Without End”, “Made in Dagenham”), Sam Reid (“The Railway Man”, “Hatfields & McCoys”), Sarah Gadon (“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, “Cosmopolis”), Tom Felton (“In Secret”, “Harry Potter” films), Matthew Goode (“The Good Wife”, “Dancing on the Edge”), Emily Watson (“The Book Thief”, “Anna Karenina”), Penelope Wilton (“Downton Abbey”, “The Girl”), and James Norton (“Rush, “Death Comes to Pemberley”).

The film is directed by Amma Asante (“A Way of Life”) with a screenplay by Misan Sagay (“Their Eyes Were Watching God”, “The Secret Laughter of Women”).

One of the great things about film, as I still learn, is that there are so many subjects/people with stories worthy of being told. Unlike the remarkable and gut-wrenching film “12 Years a Slave”, this film doesn’t seem to position itself as one that serves to remind you of atrocities that occurred in American history and make you feel guilty, because of them, at the same time. In essence, shaming you, particularly if you are white. This film is about one woman and the circumstances she happened to be brought into; which are pretty good, but the time period was not great. This really only serves as a kind of backdrop or a marker, to show that this is the period you’re in. The time period is its own character.

Mbatha-Raw’s character, Dido, may be a type of victim, but again, because of the time, but that’s not what’s so interesting. It’s that, while she see’s what’s going on, she doesn’t accept it straight out. She questions everything. She’s in a high position, but not really, at the same time. The character is also very strong and independent, because of this. Find me one person who thinks this is a bad quality. With her character and the time period being its own, you clearly have the makings of remarkable film. Supporting cast members also help because, even if based on real people, they represent the various types that existed back then. These characters may appear to be villains, but they’re just operating by the standard of the time. We seem to forget that this occurred so long ago.

As with most period inspired films, such as, “Elizabeth”, “Atonement”, “Anna Karenina”, “American Hustle”, or even “12 Years a Slave”, you’re pretty much guaranteed great costumes and sets or locations. This film is no different in those areas, and fortunately, can add even more authenticity by having filmed on location, as opposed to some sort of set built on a sound stage.

If you look into who stars in this film, through the films IMDB page, you’ll discover, more thoroughly, that this film is populated by many amazing and capable actors. Several have been nominated for awards, or just been able to act opposite some great talent and able to create fun characters this way.

Others are relatively new as they spent most of their time in the film and television not typically seen by American audiences.

Take, Mbatha-Raw, who has been acting for some time, but only in the last four years has she really been seen by American audiences. For me, I first saw her in the short lived television series “Undercovers”. While there may not have been a lot of viewers for this show, they did miss something special. One, an interesting show about spies, (JJ Abrams created), and good acting. It may not have been to the levels of “Mad Men”, but it certainly is better than some of the other stuff you see on television. There was also this little film, which did not do that well, called “Larry Crowne”. It’s great purely because it is so silly. It never tries to be anything else. Here character is likable and believable. There’s also funny material she had to work with and did well.

Goode, of late, has been guest starring on the acclaimed CBS show “The Good Wife”, acting opposite Julianna Margulies, and doing a fairly good job there. Hopefully he shows up next season. He has also been able to show his talent through such films as “Stoker”, “A Single Man”, “Brideshead Revisited”, “Leap Year”, and, yes, even “Chasing Liberty”, opposite Mandy Moore. Whether you liked all of them or not, he’s been able to leave his mark in various places and in various genres of film and television. His character, and this film should not be hurt by his presence.

What’s really worth getting excited about is that Felton is once again showing us he isn’t just capable of being Draco Malfoy. He may have been fun to “love to hate” in the “Harry Potter” films, but he appears fully ready to leave that world behind. Since wrapping the final film he’s been in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, “The Apparition”, and the mini-series “The Labyrinth” among other things. While none of these have been really able to showcase any talent he may have, especially with regards to “The Apparition”, which sucked and bored me so badly I couldn’t finish it, there’s only hope he can get better. Knowing that, seeing this film becomes all the more exciting.

Some films come along and are just fun, exciting films. Sometimes they are thrillers or horror. Others, are dramatic and want you to cry. But when a film, with historical roots, comes along, it can go two ways. It can do well, or fail to be seen. For various reasons, it appears that “Belle” will succeed in being seen and loved. It goes beyond powerful performances, as it has an important story to tell. Something you can feel and think about well after leaving the theater.

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