Spoiler alert: The following review may reveal some details from the movie.
A United Kingdom is based on a true story but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a fairy tale. A narrative of star-crossed lovers, royalty and political intrigue, the latest offering from director Amma Asante is truly compelling and worth the watch.
It all started in June 1947. English clerk Ruth Williams was at a dance in London when she was introduced to a handsome young law student. They quickly fell in love, and after just one year, he proposed. But unlike fairy tale couples, they couldn’t expect to live happily ever after.
She was white. He was black. And he wasn’t just any ordinary man—he was Seretse Khama, the prince of the British protectorate Bechuanaland, today known as Botswana.
Their romance and subsequent marriage caused a scandal of epic proportions. Ruth’s family disowned her. Seretse’s uncle, the acting regent of Bechuanaland, ordered him to leave his wife or give up his kingdom.
And this wasn’t just a family feud.
At the time, neighbouring country South Africa was on the brink of implementing apartheid. They put severe pressure on the British to separate Ruth and Seretse. Dependent on continued cheap access to South Africa’s minerals, the British did their best to tear the couple apart, even stooping to exile Seretse from Bechuanaland.
The film follows Ruth and Seretse’s journey as they battle for justice, revealing a messy and often hidden history of colonialism, racism and misuse of power. But it is also about two people who refused to give up on their marriage.
It would have been easy enough for the couple to divorce. In fact, the British government and Seretse’s uncle were actively encouraging it.
Why would Ruth want to live in a foreign country that refused to accept her? Why would Seretse choose his wife over a kingdom? What was a whirlwind wedding compared to the stability of Bechuanaland and its relationships with South Africa and Britain?
Despite the ongoing challenges they faced, Ruth and Seretse remained committed to their union. In this day and age, where a newlywed woman filed for divorce because her husband preferred to use bread rather than a fork to eat peas, A United Kingdom is a refreshing reminder of how inspiring committed marriages can be.
Genesis 2:24 describes the institution of marriage as two individuals becoming one. Jesus quotes this verse in the New Testament, reiterating the importance of unity and that no-one should separate what God has joined together.
It’s often said that love is not a feeling, it’s a choice. When a couple commit themselves to one another in marriage, they enter a contract to choose each other above all else, enduring trials and difficult circumstances together. Ruth was able to stay strong in a foreign country, knowing that she was secure in the love of her husband. Seretse was able to remain confident in his battle for justice, knowing that he had the support of his wife.
Abraham Lincoln famously quoted Mark 3:25 upon accepting the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination as that state’s senator—“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He used this verse in reference to the United States as a whole, but it could just as easily apply to a husband and wife. It is only when the pair are able to support and encourage one another that their ‘house’ can stand strong.
"Unlike fairy tale couples, they couldn't expect to live happily ever after."
Marriage is also used in the Bible as an illustration of God’s relationship with us—a beautiful reminder that He chose us above all else despite the cost.
The couple’s granddaughter Tahlia Khama was present at the film’s premiere in London. Sharing photos from the family album, she said that her grandparents’ story is what she based her views about love on.
“Until her last breath, my grandmother wore a necklace with my grandfather’s face on a coin around her neck,” she said. “I hope that one day I may aspire to have what they had.”