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Spellbinding drama poses slavery puzzle

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as "Dido Elizabeth Belle" and Sarah Gadon as Elizabeth Murray. Photo: PA Photo/Fox UK Film

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but when that beauty defies the social mores of a prejudiced era, it must be cherished in secret.

Belle is the enchanting dramatisation of a true story of fortitude across racial and class divides at a time when pompous men of privilege were vociferously debating the end of slavery in England.

The high-profile case concerned the crew of the Zong, who had thrown dozens of slaves overboard because they claimed they did not have enough supplies.

When the ship reached port, the Zong’s owners demanded compensation for the lost slaves but insurers refused to honour the claim.

The subsequent trial posed uncomfortable questions about the monetary value of human life. Amma Asante’s handsome period piece illuminates the debate.

Elegantly scripted by Misan Sagay, dramatic momentum steadily builds to Lord Mansfield’s deliberation on the Zong case, watched intently by the ship captain’s mixed-race daughter Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and idealistic lawyer John Davinier (Sam Reid). Like them, we’re spellbound by his ruling.

 

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