By KURT JENSEN, Catholic News Service | Published April 6, 2017
NEW YORK (CNS)—The historical drama “A United Kingdom” (Fox Searchlight) tells the story of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), an African royal who faced down mid-20th-century racial prejudice to marry Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a white office worker he met in post-World War II London.
Seretse and Ruth cross paths at a dance where they discover a mutual love of jazz. She subsequently learns that he’s a prince of what was then called Bechuanaland, a British protectorate (the future Botswana). Their romance proceeds at a rapid clip despite occasional encounters with racist street punks.
Political considerations pose a much larger obstacle, however. The British government has to deal with Bechuanaland’s neighbor, South Africa, which is on the verge of installing apartheid as official—and violently enforced—government policy and is outraged by the high-profile marriage.
The match also runs into considerable resistance from Seretse’s uncle, Tshekedi (Vusi Kunene), who has long been the protectorate’s acting regent. It draws the scorn of many native women as well.
The generic portrayal of this last group reveals the basic flaw hobbling director Amma Asante and screenwriter Guy Hibbert’s film: Virtually everyone on screen is an archetype.
Although dealing in generalities can be an efficient way to boil down episodes of the past that are likely unfamiliar to modern audiences, it also hinders the storytelling.
Sometimes, an epic, in-your-face treatment, such as that seen in 1982’s “Gandhi” or 2014’s “Selma” is the best way to go with stories of bigotry, since such an approach gets facts across in an easily comprehensible way. Without it, they can become difficult to follow, as in last year’s “Loving.”
But there are obvious budgetary constraints at work here. As a result, members of Seretse’s tribe have little to do except chant and sing in crowd sequences.
Similarly, the perfidy of British politicians, including Prime Minister Clement Attlee (Anton Lesser), is mostly kept off-screen, except for sneering appearances by diplomat Sir Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport). Canning opposes Seretse’s union to such an extent, he forces the prince into exile.
Despite its narrative shortcomings, “A United Kingdom” does boast a strong moral component.
Ultimately, for example, official acceptance of a marriage that threatened to undermine Britain’s fragile postwar remnants of empire depended not on a court ruling, but on the conscience of the British people. It was they who finally persuaded their political representatives that this couple was no menace to international relations.
Yet, except for the core romance and Ruth’s struggles for acceptance, little of this complicated saga—in addition to everything else, the machinations of an American diamond-mining company get thrown into the mix—comes across clearly. There is inspiration to be found here. But it requires quite a bit of patience on the viewer’s part to locate it.
The film contains brief sensuality and some racial slurs. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“The Blackcoat’s Daughter” (A24)
Stylish and very adult demon-possession drama set at a Catholic boarding school in the dead of winter. There an old-fashioned fiend, complete with two horns, inhabits a glowing basement coal furnace and uses a hallway pay phone to command a gloomy freshman (Kiernan Shipka) to carry out murderous sacrifices. Writer-director Oz Perkins keeps the gore factor comparatively low, emphasizing instead slow-building psychological horror, spooled out slowly through interlocking, time-shifting plot lines which also take in the lives of another current student (Lucy Boynton) and a former one (Emma Roberts). It eventually falls to a kindly priest (Greg Ellwand) to bring some clarity to the mayhem, although the film is so vested in its deceptive ending, Christian belief is only pro forma. An occult theme, knife violence with some gore, occasional profanities, fleeting crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick adopt a serious tone in this ensemble sci-fi thriller set on board an international space station. Tasked with retrieving an unmanned capsule carrying samples back from Mars, the craft’s crew—Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Olga Dihovichnaya, Hiroyuki Sanada and Ariyon Bakare—are thrilled to discover that they are in possession of the first living organism ever discovered beyond Earth. But the initially tiny creature they’ve taken on board turns out to have an incredibly rapid growth rate and a murderously aggressive approach to interacting with humans. Loss of life is treated with an unusual degree of sober reflection in the suspenseful clash of wits and survival skills that follows, while deft performances and some creative camera work serve to offset the familiarity of the premise. But the bloody details of the alien’s rampage are suitable neither for kids nor for the squeamish among their elders. Some gory deaths and gruesome images, a few uses of profanity, numerous rough and several crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
“CHIPS” (Warner Bros.)
Mind-numbing comedy in which Dax Shepard, who also wrote and directed, plays a rookie California Highway Patrol officer whose first partner (Michael Pena), supposedly a veteran of the force from another part of the state, is in fact an undercover FBI agent investigating a corruption case. As Shepard makes a nudge of himself and Pena gripes about it (until of course, the two inevitably bond) the humor quickly skids off the road and into the gutter. There’s also a vaguely pro-divorce message to this twist on the 1977-1983 television drama series since Shepard’s character, a washed-up extreme-sports motorcyclist, initially becomes a police recruit in an effort to win back his estranged wife (Kristen Bell) only to discover, in the end, that she’s so selfish and greedy, he’s better off without her. Scenes of gross-out gore, strong sexual content, including brief graphic activity, masturbation and full male and female nudity, much sexual and scatological humor, frequent profanity, pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O—morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.