More movement on a project we’ve been following since last fall…
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, will star: Gugu Mbatha-Raw (in photo above-right), Miranda Richardson, Tom Wilkinson, Sarah Gadon, Sam Claflin, and Matthew Goode.
Mbatha-Raw will of course play the lead role, Belle.
The project, which was developed and supported by the British Film Institute, was one of many being shopped to buyers at Cannes in May this year, when we last wrote about it. Bankside Films, the UK-based international film sales company repping the film at Cannes, called it a “hot property.”
The project, budgeted at £6.5 million ($10.1 million), WAS scheduled to begin production this summer, but that didn’t happen.
Skip ahead almost 4 months later to news that Tom Felton (from the Harry Potter movies), Sam Reid (playing Belle’s love interest), James Norton and Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) have joined the film’s cast, as well as notice that principal photography will now officially begin on September 24 at Pinewood Studios, as well as in the Isle of Man, London and Oxford.
The film is being produced by Damian Jones (The Iron Lady). Executive producers are Steve Christian, Julie Goldstein, Ivan Dunleavy, Steve Norris, Phil Hunt and Compton Ross.
Given all those involved, both in front of and behind the camera, this should be a well put together production, overall.
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 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.
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 we’ll continue to watch Belle, so any developments will be reported here.
It’s expected to be delivered in sprind 2013.
In the meantime, check out this short retelling of Dido Belle’s story that I found on YouTube: