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A young bi-racial girl, born illegitimate, is given the privilege of aristocratic life. But while this gift comes with a lot of perks, being an outsider with brown skin keeps her from experiencing her privilege to the fullest extent.
Review (with Spoilers)
Let me begin by saying there are a multitude of reasons to see this movie, starting with Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who I’ve seen every movie of, and have followed since her former TV shows Undercovers, as well as Touch (of which she is only in season 1, if I recall right); the rare sighting of a Black aristocrat, since usually when Black people are shown in the past, they are rarely, if even, in positions of prominence; as well as the historical fictional tale of behind Dido Belle, a woman who I surely did not know existed before this film, and hopefully her story, even if more inspired than fact, opens up the potential for more Black aristocrats, and royalty, to be seen on television and film.
Characters & Story
Dido Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) we find as a girl who, if her father was any other man, would have likely been abandoned and left to her own devices. However, being that her father is Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode) he doesn’t allow his daughter to be trapped in the slums and have an undesirable life considering all he could provide. So, he takes her from the slums and places her amongst aristocracy. However, being that he cannot properly parent her, such a task is left to his uncle William Murray (Tom Wilkinson), who isn’t, at first, the fondest of this idea.
However, being that his wife, Lady Mansfield (Emily Watson), and him have a daughter with no friends in sight, Dido is seen as someone to fit this role. Said role makes Dido and Lady Elizabeth Murray’s (Sarah Gadon) relationship reminiscent to that of Tiana and Lottie in The Princess and the Frog, but with Dido not being the daughter of the help. It should be noted, though, despite being snatched from the slums, Dido is no less treated as an “other.” The issue is, though, she is treated as an “other” by those in her rank, and seen as an outsider by those she shares a skin tone with, leaving her in the oddest of places. One in which she sees little, or horrible, representation of people like herself; a place where she is forced to deal with the bigotry and racism of her own family and those who would seek her hand; and all the while she is unable to fully understand how did she get so lucky, and whether it was luck at all?
As noted, this is the work of historical fiction, but the writing of Misan Sagay creates a realistic enough world that you would think of Dido as just another Black figure not taught about during elementary history lessons. Also, the dialog is appropriate to the status of Dido Belle and her surroundings, but snappy enough that it doesn’t have the usual dullness of period dramas. This isn’t to say though that the words spoken aren’t poetic, however. Many times in the film, I did feel like Jane Austen definitely inspired the dialog and love story of the film.
Which leads me to talk about Mbatha-Raw. Now, as noted, I am a fan of hers and likely this makes me a bit bias. With that said, though, I would argue that this maybe one of the first Oscar-worthy performances for the 2015 race. And I say this because of how much Mbatha-Raw owns Dido Belle. Be it the airs and graces of a young girl raised in aristocracy; that of a pariah who is verbally loved, though still kept at a slight distance; or simply a girl who has been protected so long from, well herself, that a realization of her place and who she is creates this weird complex in which nature vs. nature plays out. And through it all Mbatha-Raw continuously keeps you invested in Dido Belle’s story and makes you love her to the point of hoping your own daughter maybe like her.
The only thing I personally didn’t like was the usual overdramatic classical music which can be seen in most period dramas. Sometimes I think silence could have worked better for a scene. Outside of that, I feel the film ended at a good place, all the actors played their role well, and the story, while maybe a product of artistic license, to the point you want to question things sometimes, it still kept me interested, which is saying something.
Overall: Worth Seeing
Acknowledging that I missed the first 20 minutes of the movie, I will likely watch this again to see what happened. Though, even as I say that, I think this movie does have replay value on its own, which I am finding to be an increasingly rare thing to say about any of the films I see. Part of the reason I think this is worth seeing, and has replay value, is because even though the time period, I believe, is the 1800s, the story still feels very relevant today. Dido represents a lot of Black girls who lack diverse representation; are often put in positions, in terms of media, where they are set as the best friend; and are forced to try to deal with the worse oppression mankind has: Being a woman that is Black. For though Dido is beautiful, her skin tone strips her of that beauty in society’s eyes, and the assumptions made because of her racial background seem to never abate no matter how cultured she seems. Showing that truly things haven’t really changed as much, if just people have become much more subtle about their prejudice, or racism.