Belle is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode). Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet her status prevents her from the traditions of noble social standing. While her cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) chases suitors for marriage, Belle is left on the sidelines wondering if she will ever find love. After meeting an idealistic young vicar’s son bent on changing society, he and Belle help shape Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.
My Thoughts: I’ve been looking forward to this film since I first saw the trailer last year, and there’s one reason for that: Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I was a fan of hers during her time on the J.J. Abrams series Undercovers, and I’m surprised that it’s taken this long for someone to put her into a lead film role. She doesn’t disappoint here. What could very easily have been a stuffy period piece is enlivened by Mbatha-Raw’s spirited performance.
Of course, it helps to have an interesting story, and Belle has one. Where the film loses points, though, is the whole “based on a true story” line, since the film’s storyline mixes its historical record around to create a very specific story. The outcome of the film doesn’t exactly match reality. Not even close. It’s disappointing, but the truth would have made for a far less interesting – and certainly far less feel-good – final product.