Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is the daughter a British navel officer, Sir John Lindsay (Mathew Goode), and Maria Belle, a woman of African decent. She is raised an aristocrat in the Hampstead home of her uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), alongside her cousin Elizabeth Murray (Canadian rising star Sarah Gadon). Dido finds herself in a unique and often tragic station, despite her fine education, aristocratic upbringing, and wealth provided to her by her father, she cannot buy her way into societal acceptance in 18th century England. Too highborn to dine with the servants, but unwelcome at her family’s dinner table, Dido takes her meals alone in the parlor. Her prospects of marriage are slim, or so her family believes until she catches the eye of two different suitors, now Dido must decide between being settled and gaining a secure foothold in society, or following her heart to true love.
Belle is the type of movie that people who don’t go to film festivals expect to see at a film festival. It’s an artistic period drama with beautiful costumes, lavish settings, and flowery language. It invokes Jane Austen by embodying her feel good storytelling, instead of selecting a more direct approach to portray the real events on which the story is based. Director Amma Asante plays it safe, filling the screen with largely conventional characters delivering rather simplistic dialogue. She gives little room for misinterpretation, especially when delivered by such a stellar supporting cast. At times the romance feels contrived and events unfold quickly without giving characters’ emotions time to catch up. Though important to highlight, the controversial slavery case that unfurls in the background of the film will sometimes shift to centre stage, causing the audience a bit of confusion as to what is the real focus of this film.