Like "Downton Abbey" but with corsets, culottes, and tricorn hats, Belle subtly skewers the absurd rules and hypocrisies of class. But the real takeaway is Mbatha-Raw. She makes a case for why she ought to be a star.
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Amma Asante's second feature tells Dido's extraordinary story in handsome, if formulaic, style.
Closer to a special episode of "Diff’rent Strokes" than to "12 Years a Slave," the movie seems to exist to give its white characters belated moments of conscience.
That the film still works as well as it does is due to not only its polished craftsmanship and disarming comedy-of-manners approach, but also its fascinating insights into the conflicted mindset of British society
If you were wondering what “12 Years a Slave” might have been like as a two-part episode of “Masterpiece Theatre,” you might want to check out this unsatisfying but not uninteresting oddity. It renders another historical story about race with exquisite taste but not much in the way of passion.
As a period production, Belle is gorgeous, dazzling spectacle, replete with ornate costumes, lovely sets, and in Mbatha-Raw, a striking, charismatic lead. But the film never finds a way to invest its narrative with a sense of urgency.
Elegant and understated, Belle is a true story about the effects of slavery on 18th-century England, told in the style of a sweeping romantic saga by Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters.
Beautifully cast, touchingly played and handsomely mounted, Belle is as close to perfect as any costumed romance has a right to be.
There's a great story here, but Asante — who has made one previous feature, the 2004 drama A Way of Life — can't quite harness its power.
The film is concerned largely with intellectual horrors and portrays the fight against slavery rather neatly as a growing feeling of internal guilt that slowly turns society toward the light.