Seretse Khama is like any other male college student in 1947 London. With the world now at peace, he’s looking for that one woman who shares his beliefs and dreams. And he thinks he’s found her.
Her name is Ruth Williams, an optimistic and bright British girl who quickly falls for Seretse, too. They seem destined for marriage, but there’s one big problem. He’s black. She’s white. And interracial marriages in 1947 are a big taboo, particularly when you are—like Seretse—on the verge of becoming king of a black tribe in the country of Bechuanaland (now Botswana).
Their true story is the focus of A United Kingdom (PG-13), a romantic drama that is expanding to major cities this weekend and recounts a tale from history that largely has been forgotten. David Oyelowo (Selma) stars as Seretse, while Rosamund Pike (Jack Reacher, Pride & Prejudice) plays Ruth.
“You disgust me,” Ruth’s father tells her, learning of the relationship and pledging to cut all ties. “… I can’t see you again … not if you choose him.”
But it’s not simply Ruth’s parents who are opposed. Seretse’s uncle, who has served as his guardian and has been grooming his nephew to become king, also is standing in the way.
“You will obey me, and you will divorce her,” he says. (Seretse’s father died years ago.)
Incredibly, the governments of the United Kingdom, Bechuanaland and neighboring South Africa conspire to have Seretse exiled from his home country, threatening not only his kingship but also his marriage. He and his wife even are kept in separate countries when she gives birth to their first baby.
The movie is an ugly-but-inspiring story that seems straight out of the Dark Ages, even if it occurred a mere seven decades ago. It’s also a tale we never must forget.
Still, we need to ask: Is A United Kingdom family-friendly? Let’s take a look.
There’s a lot to like about this one.
The romance between Seretse and Ruth stays mostly within the teen-friendly realm. They kiss prior to marriage, but unlike most PG-13 romantic films it doesn’t go any further. (Although, post-marriage, there is one scene parents should know about; see details below).
They display remarkable grace in the face of pressure and racial epithets, rarely responding with anger as friends and family members disown and turn against them. Upon learning that 80 percent of his own people oppose the marriage, an impassioned and tearful Seretse tells a crowd of several thousand: “I love my people. I love this land. But I love my wife.”
Oyelowo delivers an outstanding performance as Seretse Khama, reminding us why he was chosen to play Martin Luther King Jr. in the 2014 film Selma. Pike also is solid.
Finally, director Amma Asante is to be commended for giving us a movie about race and romance without diving into R-rated territory. We learn about racism—Ruth says her country has signs that read “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs”—but we’re not bombarded with the n-word or bloody fights.
A United Kingdom is rated PG-13 for language and a “scene of sensuality.”
I counted a handful of coarse words or epithets: ba—rd (1); d–mn (1); he—(1); misuse of God (1); n-word (1); and coon (1).
The sensuality scene takes place immediately after their wedding, with both standing in the bedroom. It lasts fewer than 10 seconds, and we see shoulders, backs and his torso, but nothing else.
Violence is minimal, even though the movie opens with a boxing match involving Seretse, and, moment later, shows him fighting back when he is attacked by two or three men on a street at night.
Lastly, American audiences might find the politics and the nuances of the mid-20th-century British empire a bit difficult to follow. More than once I had to ask myself: Why is South Africa involved in this story, when neither Seretse nor Ruth are from there? A Google search answered my question, but it is obvious why A United Kingdom opened in the U.K. and not in the U.S.
Nearly 2,000 years ago God told us through the Apostle Paul, “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek …” (Romans 10:12). But despite how God views racism, it still persisted in the 1940s—and it still persists today. Racism also wasn’t simply an American problem in the ’40s and ’50s. It was a human problem, and sometimes, it went both ways.
The gospel, of course, is the ultimate solution, yet we still can be thankful for men and women like Seretse and Ruth, who chose to disobey their governments and do what is right. (The movie does not address their faith, although both were raised Christian.)
The Verdict: Family-Friendly?
A United Kingdom really isn’t for young kids, but I’m guessing that if I had teenagers in my home, I would want them to watch it. Its message about opposing evil and racism and standing up for what is right is one I would want my teens to learn.
Would you consider Seretse and Ruth heroes? (Why or why not?) Were you surprised that both families opposed the marriage? What did you learn about racism in the film? Do you think each of them handled verbal attacks well? Do you think they made the right decision to marry? When is it biblically permissible to disobey the government? Were racists of the 1940s and 1950s simply “products of their culture?”
Entertainment rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5.
A United Kingdom is rated PG-13 for some language, including racial epithets, and a scene of sensuality.