I saw this movie in theaters, but apparently didn’t review it. Caught up to it again on blu-ray and I think I loved it even more the second time. It’s based on the true story of an aristocratic British family who take in the mixed race child of their son, a naval officer who cannot keep the child due to his ship travels. This is the 1800s, mind you. I think you can see where this is going. The film is really anchored by the brilliant performances, particularly that of Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the lead role. It’s the kind of thing I used to call a star-making performance; I don’t know that this applies anymore since people keep giving star-making performances (Brie Larson in Short Term 12 is another fine example) in brilliant movies that almost no one sees. Tom Wilkinson is astoundingly good, unsurprisingly, as the grandfather that takes the main character into his home; it’s a rich, multi-layered performance. Sam Reid is stalwart and righteous without ever being hokey or silly in a supporting role; Tom Felton is suitably despicable in a small role; Sarah Gadon gets some powerful moments as the adoptive sister of the main character. The film is really wonderful in the way that the script opens things up to become about so much more than just race. Obviously, it explores the racial element of the story, but it ends up being about societal oppression and prejudice in general by giving emphasis to the ways in which women were treated in society at that time and the poor of course, but it also explores, in a really fascinating way, how even the sons of wealthy and powerful families were mistreated and oppressed when they weren’t the firstborn. James Norton plays a character that seems not entirely trustworthy or honorable, but by the end of the film, you’ve seen how his status, even though his family is wealthy and powerful, is one of destitution and lack simply because he isn’t the oldest son. Back when I first saw this film I told a friend that it was the most powerful gay rights film of the year even though the issue of homosexuality isn’t raised in the film at all and I stand by that. It’s a film about the moral and ethical responsibility of both individuals and society to see that all people are treated as completely human and when that seems impossible, we must refuse to allow that to stand; in the words of one character here, “What is right must never be impossible.” Correcting inequities and rights violations is a moral burden on all of us and it is something done in both the small ways and the big ones, from an everyday decision about the way we treat someone in a small interaction to the campaigning for massive, sweeping changes in legislation and every step in that direction is a step that aligns itself with the moral arc of the universe. Anyway, it’s a film that, as you can probably tell, really affects me deeply and stirs my moral beliefs. It’s a deeply moving, beautifully acted, sharply and passionately written movie about human rights and it’s a movie everyone should see. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – amazing true story of mixed race woman raised by aristocratic family is a moving tale of the personal struggles of its characters, a thoughtful exploration of oppression and a stirring call to action in the field of human rights. 4 stars.