Belle | EW.com

Movies

Belle

Dido Elizabeth Belle (newcomer Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was an anomaly in 18th-century England. The mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy admiral (Matthew Goode), she was raised by her aristocratic great-uncle, the First Earl of Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), and his wife (Emily Watson). Director Amma Asante’s fact-based epic charts the animosity Belle faced from her highborn peers (including Harry Potter’s Tom Felton) as well as her positive influence on Lord Mansfield, a noted judge who helped abolish slavery in England in 1772. The focus is on the heroine’s growing sense of empowerment. “She goes from ‘as you wish’ to ‘as I wish,’” says Asante. Like Belle, though, the filmmakers had to adhere to certain social constraints of the era. “Gugu didn’t wear any makeup on screen,” says Asante. In that era, “there wasn’t any for women of color.”