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At the New York Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue, the writer, director, and members of the cast of the new film, Belle, spoke about the Fox Searchlight film. Dido Elizabeth Belle, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, was the mixed race daughter of an 18th Century Royal Naval Admiral.
The film was based on a painting. Writer Misan Sagay said, “To meet another black person in a painting was stunning.” Sagay began to look for the story of an actual person who was really there.
The movie features Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sam Reid, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, and Miranda Richardson. Director Amma Asante describes the film as a love story. Asante is a BAFTA award winner and has won 17 international awards for her writing and directing, including the BFI London Film Festival’s Alfred Dunhill UK Film Talent Award. Belle takes on issues of race and social structure in England.
The period film was shot in London and on the Isle of Man. The production team took great strides to make scenes of the film look like an English summer. Asante explained that there had to be the bustle of dresses and flowers in the background. The director said, “I created an idea of my version of the English rose.”
Simon Bowles is the production designer who won the award from the British Film Designers Guild in January 2013 for Hyde Park on Hudson, starring Bill Murray and Laura Linney. Costume designer Anushia Nieradzik based her designs on images from the original painting. She wanted to make certain that the characters were both “fabulous and very much alive.”
The film features Miranda Richardson, who plays Lady Ashford. The Oscar nominee is known for her work in Enchanted April and Damage. Richardson said that she enjoyed working with a woman director on a story that “needed to be told.”
Richardson spoke a little bit about how power plays within the movie, as the film considers marriage and social standing. Richardson said, “As a high ranking, white woman in the upper classes, she actually at certain points has less power than this almost upstart, if you like…The degrees are really interesting…It’s layered and everybody does interlink rather well.”
Sam Reid, who can also be seen in Railway Man with Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth, plays John Davinier, a human rights activist, who eventually marries Belle.
Davinier fails to see eye to eye with Lord Mansfield, played by Tom Wilkinson. Lord Mansfield had the power in his hands to uphold or strike a fatal blow against the British slave trade with the landmark case involving the Zong slave ship trial. Academy Award winner Rachel Portman created an emotional score for the film.
Fox Searchlight will be releasing the film, Belle, in theaters on May 2.
Here is the trailer:
Images courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures