«We wanted the DNA of Botswana running through our film» – Amma Asante
The 60th London Film Festival opened with a British biographical romantic drama ‘A United Kingdom‘. A real life love story between Sir Seretse Khama and his wife Ruth Williams Khama. The film is based on Susan Willliams‘ book ‘Colour Bar’ and is directed by Amma Asante (Belle), starring Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) and David Oyelowo (The Butler).
The press conference for ‘A United Kingdom’ was held during the 2016 BFI London Film Festival at The Mayfair Hotel on Wednesday (October 5, 2016) in London.
Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Tom Felton (Harry Potter), Jessica Oyelowo (Alice in Wonderland), Laura Carmichael (Downton Abbey) and Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean) arrived at the press conference to talk about the film, history, romance and diversity in the film industry.
‘A United Kingdom’ tells a true story of Sir Seretse Khama (Oyelowo), heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) and his wife Ruth Williams Khamaof. Seretse Khama studied law in London immediately after World War II where he met a white woman Ruth Williams (Pike), an English clerk. Sereste eventually married Ruth despite both their families disapproval and the opposition they faced from the British Government and South Africa.This is a beautiful story about love with a heartfelt self-belief and an important message to the viewer that true love can conquer all. The love story of Ruth and Sereste sparked a furor in the colonialist Britain and apartheid South Africa but with time their story was completely forgotten.
Director, Amma Asante revealed at the press conference that her new film was not an easy project, but it was strongly supported by David Oyelowo who persuaded everyone to start works, being fully involved in the project. Oyelowo found himself compelled by the story of the Colour Bar: “It was the image of them on the cover of the book that arrested me: this young man in a trilby and trench coat, and this beautiful woman next to him. I read the book and it became an obsession with which I dragged anyone and everyone I loved working with and who I felt was talented and would share my passion.” Rosamund Pike, too, found herself moved by the story and her character Ruth: “I opened the photos before I opened the script and I was moved to tears by them in a sort of immediate strange way(..) (Ruth) has tremendous pluck; I don’t think that’s a word we even use these days (…)it feels very dated, but it’s such a wonderful quality and it was the way she just went through it,- saying “yes” to life (…) the certainty with which she undertook her love and commitment to her marriage, I found it inspiring.”
Assante was thrilled to show the world the beautiful story and remined viewers of the two nation’s history: “My hope is that when people see this film they will see themselves in both Ruth and Seretse. They will see this country’s history(…)They will see us as people of African descent’s history and how that intersects with British history inextricably and why we are very proud to call ourselves British and why we are very proud to call ourselves Africans and with time it will become less and less special.”
Amma felt that her film is also very important to women adding: “Often when we go to the cinema the majority of the films that are on at the cinema happen to be about men, happen to be about white men and they happen to be within a particular age bracket (…)When we talk about diversity on screen obviously that is what we are challenging (…)We are not saying we want to stop those films being made or to get rid of them, we are simply saying that there are other realities that are also a default experience.It is not about removing what is already there, it is about allowing the space for others to join and have the same privilege(..)”
The most challenging part of the filming process all stars agreed on was shooting in extremely hot weather conditions. Jack Davenport could not forget the hot weather in Botswana and the problems that he faced wearing a feathered ceremonial hat, while Rosamund Pike agreed that it took her a while to adapt to the unusual climate. Still it was very important for the whole crew to shoot the film in Boswana. Assante confessed that more developed South African countries were able to offer her crew better conditions and equipment, but they needed to stay true to the story and show the real Botswana: «We wanted the DNA of Botswana running through our film». Oyelowo added: “What I found about actually shooting in Boswana is there was a generational devide, the story that we are highliting took place about 70 years ago, so the older generation – was very delighted that we were shooting in Botswana. It was a real chance and real pressure to shoot it in South Africa (..) where there is more of an infrastructure, but we were absolutely insisted about shooting it in Botswana, the current president of Botswana is Sereste Khan’s son, so there was a support for us shooting there, but one of the things that really struck me is that the younger generation did not know much about Ruth and Sereste’s story at all”. Assante and Oyelowo felt that it was very important to show the story to the world and remind them of it.
«A United Kingdom» in theatres from 25 November 2016 in the UK, from 17 February 2017 in the USA.