Belle is a 2013 British period drama film directed by Amma Asante, written by Misan Sagay and produced by Damian Jones. It stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton, Sam Reid, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon, Tom Felton and James Norton.
The film is inspired by the 1779 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle beside her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, at Kenwood House (below), which was commissioned by their great-uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, then Lord Chief Justice of England. Very little is known about the life of Dido Belle, who was born in the West Indies and was the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of Mansfield’s nephew.
She is found living in poverty by her father and entrusted to the care of Mansfield and his wife.
This covers the abolition of the slave trade. The film Amazing Grace (2007) has a similar theme, but covers the work of Willam Wilberforce.
Belle is mainly a period romance, which detracts from the historical events it depicts.
She is taken as a young child to live with what turns out to be England’s Chief Justice. It’s her influence, alongside a young lawyer that influences him in his final decision of the Zong Massacre,
It’s a well made film with lots of sumptuous costumes and period interiors. Although the legal case at the centre of then film is an important step in the abolition of slavery, ‘Amazing Grace’ is the better film for explaining the history and how slavery ended.