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Monday, December 22, 2014

BELLE


By D.E.Levine

Belle is an interesting and historically true period piece about a young biracial woman who was instrumental in changing the slavery laws in the United Kingdom.

Taken by her white, British navel captain father, Sir John Lindsey (Matthew Goode) from an island home after her black mother, Maria Bell, dies when she is a child, Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804), Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is placed in the hands of her great-uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and Lady Mansfield (Emily Watson).

Transplanted as she was to a large country manor, Belle is raised along side her cousin Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon).  The cousins are extremely close growing up together, but Elizabeth is white and fits into the aristocratic society they live in, while Belle, biracial, is considered black and ostracized in a slave-trading society.

Belle does not eat with the family but joins the ladies after the all white dinners.  In the  film we see the painting of a now famous painting of the two girls, side, by side, both dressed in silk and pearls.  Painted at Kenwood House in Hampstead, England where Belle lived for about 30 years, the painting now hangs in Scone Palace, the famed crowning place in Scotland for numerous Kings of Scotland.

The painting is unusual because it portrays the two young women as equal, although in the eyes of society they were not equal.

As she grows, Belle becomes aware of her social, political and and legal position.  Ironically, as her awareness grows and she becomes an activist for equality of all colors, we learn that her great uncle is the Lord Chief Justice who must decide the real case of the Zong slave ship.

It is believed that Lord Mansfield's affection for Belle influenced his feelings toward slavery although he was careful to maintain exact interpretation of the law.  His historic decision is considered a landmark step toward the abolition of transatlantic slave trade.