If you were expecting to be the guest of a live-action retelling of Beauty and the Beast, sorry, Belle isn't that movie"”but I guess you could write a musical about confusing both movies. And while it's not a retelling of the classic fairy tale, it creates one from history about a young woman who's seen by many as both a beauty and a beast. Who's ready to sing about that?!
Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Dido Elizabeth Belle (say both names ten times fast"”but backwards), the illegitimate mixed-raced daughter of British royal navy officer Sir John Lindsay. The film examines Belle's life in luxury that also had its slums, mainly: society's reaction to her dark skin.
That's right, America! We're not the only country that had racist roots. Early on, I thought the film would be boring because I didn't want another surface-level message of, "Yeah, racism sucks." Or in this case, "Um, yeah, British racism sucks, mate." I wanted to see if the movie would go deeper than that. Whether the film actually does is up for debate, but I think the film wants to be multi-layered by tackling other topical issues like class, femininity, family, poofy clothes, wigs and love. And while it aims to address the historical context of Belle's situation and her deep internal issues with who she was, at times, the filmmakers seem afraid to let the story be what it truly is (and marketed to be): Pride and Prejudice"”interracial love edition!
I'm glad the film attempts to give a historical frame of Belle's era"”most notably, her connection with the landmark trial of a slaveship fiasco (The Zong Case). But it only brings conflict to a love story that didn't hook me. Here, the romance is built by the historical but typical on-screen courtship formalities we've seen in other period dramas"”but more importantly, they lack engaging romantic sequences.
Just go a little Quentin Tarantino and make up a story about an interracial romance in the 18th century. Throw in some dragons and a few magic carpet rides; make it a sweeping epic! But if you go non-fiction, it shouldn't feel as contrived as it did, especially when it has a message that's about being boundless. It tries to share a story about the flaws we have that go skin deep and beyond, but those flaws and complications are almost nowhere to be seen in certain characters like Dido's potential love interest John Davinier. (Just "˜cause he ain't racist doesn't mean he ain't flawed elsewhere).
It's as if the filmmakers thought, "If this were not based on a true story and were just "˜inspired by a true story', a simple but well told 18th century interracial romance would come off as a gimmick." But if a story like that has never seen the big screen when we've had like, twelve million Jane Eyre re-dos, how could it be one? Regardless of whether or not you like historical dramas or period romances, Belle has elements of why you should see it. On the surface, it's solidly acted, directed and produced. But while the film's content and message that's displayed cinematically isn't always engrossing, its overall quality of production is better than what usually breaks the mold.