Megan’s Movie Night: Belle

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, May 11th. Thanks for listening. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Next up on The World and Everything in It: a Mother’s Day movie recommendation.

The big day arrives this weekend, and I hope all you guys out there have already made your plans.

REICHARD: Whether you have or not, WORLD Radio’s Megan Basham has a film recommendation that might help you out. She says 2013’s “Belle” is a movie for nearly all occasions.

MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: Are you in the mood for something romantic for a stay-at-home date night? This story of star-crossed 18th century love between the half-black, illegitimate daughter of an English gentleman and a fiery abolitionist lawyer will have you more than covered.

AUDIO: Love? You claim love? Yes, I love her. I love her with every breath I breathe.

Looking more for an educational family pick? PG-rated “Belle” has a smorgasbord of fascinating factual background on the life of the real Dido Elizabeth Belle… and also of her uncle, the Earl of Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice of the King’s bench. A significant figure in British case law against slavery, he made landmark rulings that helped end the slave trade while raising Belle as his daughter on his grand English estate.

The details of one particular case—in which traders on a ship called the Zong tried to collect insurance on their own murder victims—offer a devastatingly specific look at the legal debates of the time.

AUDIO: 132 drowned en route from Africa to the West Indies. Your ruling could bring the slave trade to its knees; entirely destroy an economic foundation of this land. Is that pressure not maddening, my lord? “Justitia fiat, ruat coelum,” Mr. Davinier. “Let justice be done though the heavens may fall.” The insurance claim states that the slaves were thrown overboard for the safety of the ship. That there wasn’t sufficient water for the slaves and the crew to survive the rest of the voyage. It does. Well, if I’m correct, the case hangs on — It hangs on absolute necessity.

My lord, if you find for the traders you will be formalizing in law the concept of insuring human cargo. That’s correct. Drive. Then know that when you are gone, your legacy will be to have left Miss Lindsay in a world where she may be worth more dead than alive. Miss Lindsay is not a slave. By the very grace of God.

Planning a girls night for those friends who only put down their worn copies of Pride and Prejudice to mourn the fact that Downton Abbey ended? Boy is this a movie for them. It’s got enough frank British repartee over what rank and inheritance qualifies as a good marriage match to make Lady Mary Crawley blush.

AUDIO: Mama, Mr. Vonn approaches. I have checked…he achieves an income of no less than 4,000 pounds a year.

Each time I set eyes on that girl she becomes more beautiful…she has the coloring of a farmer. James, you are my first boy. Blessed by lord to inherit your father’s wealth. Be sympathetic to your brother. Like the unfortunate Miss Murray, Good family name and empty pockets will only get him so far.

And action? Well, okay, there’s not a lot of that. But when every movie in theaters right now seems to be part of a franchise featuring battles with superpowers, battles in space, or battles with prehistoric lizards, couldn’t we all use a change of pace?

“Belle” may not have a lot of fiery explosions or clashing light beams, but it does feature plenty of clashes of fiery rhetoric.

AUDIO: Tell me are you to share his dining room as well as his bed? Oh, Mr. James, your manners are as poor as your brother’s finances. And you are foolish enough to marry him. I, on the other hand, have no further for your impoverished cousin. Though, she does make for rather amusing sport. That is painful, sir! Have you never been manhandled? It is not my repertoire to keep company with beasts.

This exchange, harsh but far from explicit, highlights director Amma Asante’s skill at characterizing immorality without resorting to grotesque language or graphic images.

The dehumanizing scene that follows in which the villain, played by Harry Potter’s Tom Felton, assaults Belle stands as proof that a physical act doesn’t need to be shown in detail to have an emotional impact. Though the camera cuts away, any adult viewer will have perfect understanding of the degradation Belle suffers, while younger viewers will see nothing more disturbing than a mean man.

Best of all, though, is the quality the movie exhibits both as education and entertainment. This is no take-your-medicine history lesson. From start to finish “Belle” boasts a riveting story of love, justice, and intrigue made even better by the phenomenal performances of lead Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as well as Oscar nominees Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, and Miranda Richardson.

AUDIO: You are above reducing yourself for the sake of rank. I pray he would marry you without a penny to your name for that is a man who would truly treasure you.

No one loves a good comic-book based movie more than me, but sometimes you want to stand up and cheer for real heroes who aren’t wearing tights.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.

(Photo/DJ Films,Isle of Man Film, Pinewood Pictures, BFI)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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