Belle

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(X) ★★★½

Against all the conventions of 18th century England, Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Dido Belle, mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy officer, is raised on the Kenwood House estate as a member of the family… the Lord Chief Justice’s family. Tom Wilkinson is Lord Mansfield, agonising over a scandalous slave-ship insurance fraud while, even in privileged surroundings, Belle suffers the slights of blinkered bigotry: “Just as in life, we are no better in paintings.” Elegantly composed by director Amma Asante within a world of stifling etiquette worthy of Jane Austen, the oddly romantic Belle comes at its subject from an oblique angle. Even so, it’s fit to stand alongside the abolitionist dramas Amistad and Amazing Grace. Belle was more warmly received in America than Steven Spielberg’s Amistad (Sky Movies Drama Wednesday 8pm), which was deeply unpopular Stateside not least because – for once – the repentent English were the good guys. But probably most because Amistad’s distressing material is rather more complex than the Mandingo antics of Django Unchained. Curiously, in the general rush to laud 12 Years a Slave, Amistad was ignored, even though it marked the film debut of 12 Years star Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Certificate: 12