Belle (2013)

Belle 1

Recently Jenny and I were walking to our car. It was next to a park across the street from where we live. Several homeless people have taken up residence there (hence endangering their “homeless” status). One of them we affectionately refer to as the Bug Lady. Why? When she talks, her voice sounds like a bug. I mean, If a bug was 5’4″, 220 pounds, was smoking since it was a larvae, and had the ability to talk, it would sound like her.

Today she said in her bug voice “Puedes darme un dolar por un cigerrillo”? “No habla espanol”, I replied to her, saying the one Spanish phrase I have mastered since I’ve lived in Miami.

So far things are going as expected. Homeless person in Miami asking for money. The next is also expected. She knows enough English to translate for me. “Can I have a dollar for a cigarette?” “Cigarettes are bad for you!” I answer back.

Then something totally unexpected happened. The Bug Lady says, in English, “Can I have a dollar for a sweet potato?”

Fifty-four years I’ve been on this earth. The first few years are a little fuzzy, but for most of those years, I’ve never had those set of words in that particular order said to me. Live long enough, and the unexpected will happen.

Belle 2

So it goes with the movies. Most movies, even the good ones, are following the path of movies before. The trailer for Belle looks like an interesting period piece. The twist is that the female lead character is the offspring of a interracial couple. However, unexpectedly, the movie develops into an intriguing detective story/courtroom drama.

Belle takes place in 18th century England and tells the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Navy Sea Captain. The Captain leaves Belle in the care of her uncle, William Murray (played Tom Wilkinson), who was also the Lord Chief Justice of England.

The family is at first shocked at this turn of events, but they do the right thing and raise Belle as what she truly is, one of the family. How she is treated by others in the area as well as the motive of future suitors play a big part of the story.

Unexpected, but true to history, is the turn of events where a court case is brought before what appears to be the English version of the Supreme Court. A slave ship files a claim with an insurance company for financial loss from the throwing overboard of slaves. The insurance company rejects the claim, and  Lord Chief Justice William Murray’s ruling on the case will have great ramifications as to how England will view the slave trade.

Belle begins to learn of the case, and begins to help those who want slavery abolished. Here the movie becomes not only a period piece, but a detective story/courtroom drama.

The entire cast is excellent, but Tom Wilkinson steals every scene he’s in. His final speech where he delivers his decision in court is magnificent.

Belle 3

It’s hard to believe this is only director Amma Asante’s second film. She does a great job with a many layered story. According to the Internet Movie Database, she actually wrote the script, but was denied the writing credit due to arbitration by the Writers Guild of America. Whoever wrote it, a fine job was accomplished.

So get ready for the unexpected (which will make it no longer unexpected), and see Belle. As they say in my neighborhood, “Es mejor que una bolsa de patatas dulces.”

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