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Belle Review

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When her enslaved mother dies, a young girl (Mbatha-Raw) is taken under the protection of a well-connected sailor (Goode). Called away on an expedition to the Indies, he leaves her in the care of a reluctant Lord Mansfield (Wilkinson).

★★★★★

Handsome historical drama inspired by the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle (but deviating wildly from the facts) sees the daughter of an aristocrat and a slave (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) raised as an educated 18th-century lady with her white cousin but perpetually reminded of her inferior social status and poor prospects. Nevertheless, she influences her caring great-uncle and guardian, who happens to be the Lord Chief Justice whose ruling in a controversial case will have profound repercussions for the slave trade. Very pretty, melodramatic British period fare with weighty thesps (Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson) adding class but young lovers lacking chemistry in a worthy 12 Years At Downton Abbey.

If not a star-making turn, Mbatha-Raw's tough, tender performances should give her plenty of opportunities in sharper fare.