The film, A United Kingdom, is a true story that depicts the relationship between the United Kingdom and its protectorate, modern-day Botswana (then Bechuanaland). The United Kingdom seeks to both exploit and annex the land of Bechuanaland to its already established neighboring colony, South Africa. In spite of this, Botswana strives to become its own independent, united Kingdom.
The movie is set in England in 1947. The audience is introduced to the courtship of a black man and a white woman. Despite society’s non acceptance of their relationship, they fall in love and wish to get married. They are met with many trials and obstacles from both sides. This is due, in part, because the young man, Seretse Khama, is the heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Botswana. Consequently, the British government, the South African government and the current King of Botswana - Khama’s uncle, oppose his marriage to a British white woman. The South African government is involved because it had recently installed its apartheid system and therefore, did not consider a biracial marriage an acceptable, legal or binding agreement. Because of Britain’s resource-fueled, colonial ties in South Africa, the South African government threatened Britain with an ultimatum: either dissolve the marriage or risk having further access to South Africa’s resources. As is the case in many global conflicts, the roots lie in power and money - in this case, in the form of natural resources.
The film illustrates Seretse and Ruth’s fight for love in a climate that encourages relinquishing their love and parting ways. It also demonstrates how Ruth embraces her new Botswanan community and in turn, is slowly accepted into its society. Seretse juggles wanting to represent his people while also fighting for what is right— including severing ties with England, creating a life for his wife and child, and creating a united Kingdom where his people’s interests are met and not exploited. A United Kingdom is vibrant and touching, yet heart-wrenching and thought-provoking.
This true story also sheds light on the role that colonialism played across the African continent.. As illustrated in the film, Botswana declared its independence in 1966 under its first President, Seretse Khama. Today, Botswana remains one of Africa’s most stable nations. Its presidents have been democratically elected, its wealth is largely derived from diamond exports, and it is home to many South Africans who fled the Apartheid system. The film not only provides its audience with historical insight, but it also highlights today’s influence of colonialism, including the institutionalized racism that still exists.
A United Kingdom is an engaging watch, an historical must-see, and a film that implores its audience to reflect on and also to question the role that governments play in society.