Good news on a project we've been following since last fall… glad to know that it's moving full-speed ahead, as I've learned this afternoon that it's locked up its starring cast which includes: Gugu Mbatha-Raw (in photo above-right), Miranda Richardson, Tom Wilkinson, Sarah Gadon, Sam Claflin, and Matthew Goode; all have signed up to star in British actor/writer/director/producer Amma Asante's (in photo above-left) period drama about the trials and tribulations of a mixed-race girl titled Belle, from a script which she co-wrote.
Mbatha-Raw will of course play the lead role, Belle.
The project, which was developed and supported by the British Film Institute, is one of many being shopped to buyers at Cannes.
A quick recap… the story takes place in the 1780s, and follows a mixed-race girl, adopted into an aristocratic family, who faces class and color prejudices. As she blossoms into a young woman, she develops a relationship with a vicar's son who is an advocate for slave emancipation.
The project, budgeted at £6.5 million ($10.1 million), is scheduled to begin production this summer.
The film is actually based on a true story – specifically, the true story of Dido Belle, a mixed-race woman raised as an aristocrat in 18th-century England.
Her full name was Dido Elizabeth Belle, born 1761, died 1804; she was the illegitimate daughter of John Lindsay (a white British Naval officer) and an African slave woman known only as Belle.
Dido lived a significant part of her life with her great-uncle (on her father's side) the Earl of Mansfield who lived with his family at Kenwood House in Hampstead, England – a stately home where great statesmen and their families lived through the years, but is now a public space, housing expensive painting collections, and where classical performances have been held.
Dido spent some 30 years at Kenwood House, in an unusual position because she was the daughter of a slave (despite her white elite father and upbringing). But she was treated as a member of the family, to a certain extent; Dido was not allowed to eat at the same table with the rest of the family, especially if they had guests; but was allowed to sit with the women for coffee and ladily chats afterwards in the drawing-room.
She was responsible for the dairy and poultry yards at Kenwood, and she also helped the Earl Mansfield with his penning his letters – essentially acting as his secretary, which obviously indicates that she was likely fairly well educated.
Dido also received an annual allowance that was considered several times the usual pay for a servant.
There's more, but you kind of get the idea I hope. Obviously a lot to chew on, and would make for quite a revelatory film; so I can understand Amma Asante's interest in it.
Bankside Films, a UK-based international film sales company, is repping the film at Cannes. They're calling it a "hot property."
Of course the film still has to be made.
This will be Amma Asante's second feature; her feature debut was a 2004 gritty and compelling South Wales-set racism drama titled A Way Of Life, which she also wrote. And for her work on that film, she was blessed with the BAFTA's (the british equivalent of the Oscars) Carl Foreman Award for best debut by a British filmmaker, as well as being named The Times Breakthrough Artist Of The Year.
But Belle is already on my watch list, so any developments will be reported here.
In the meantime, check out this short retelling of Dido Belle's story that I found on YouTube: