Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Belle Review - 3½ Stars

“Belle” tells a most unusual story, based somewhat on truth and on a haunting painting from the 1700s.  As the movie begins a young mixed race girl comes with her father to the home of his uncle, a prominent British judge.  The father, a British Navy Admiral, asks his relative to do the right thing and raise her in the manner to which she is born.  The uncle, played by Tom Wilkinson, and his wife, played by Emily Watson resist at first but come to love the child as she grows into a beautiful young woman and companion for her blonde fair-skinned cousin.  Unsure of her place in society, Belle endures prejudice and confusion, much of it painful to watch.   (Tom Fenton, who played one of the bad kids in the Harry Potter series, plays a racist British snob—a nice bit of casting.)   The performance by British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw captures the tension of Belle’s life.  The plot juggles prejudice with romance and justice.  This story holds your attention and concludes with a portrait of Belle and her cousin–a picture that will stay with you long after you leave the theater.   I think it will propel Gugu Mbatha-Raw to stardom.  Does it deliver what it promises?  Fascinating history.  Is it entertaining?  A great companion to “12 Years a Slave.”  Is it worth the price of admission?  One of the years best.