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The power of love is undeniable. In fact, when employed skillfully, it can work wonders, not only in interpersonal relationships, but also in circumstances that have wider ramifications, some of which may be unforeseen at the outset. That’s the surprising and amazing outcome for a romance once considered taboo, one even with international implications, as depicted in the new historical love story, “A United Kingdom” (web site, trailer).

In the late 1940s, Prince Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) of the southern African nation of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) attends law school in London in preparation for his ascendancy to the throne, a destiny that has been awaiting him since the untimely death of his father, the king, while he was a young boy. During Seretse’s upbringing, the affairs of the nation have been handled by his uncle, Tshekedi (Vusi Kunene), who has dutifully served as regent. And now, with his education nearly complete, the prince is summoned home to assume his role as the country’s new king. But, before leaving, an unexpected development occurs – Suretse falls madly in love with an English woman, Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike).

Prince Suretse Khama (David Oyelowo, right), heir apparent to the throne of the African nation of Bechuanaland, unexpectedly falls in love with English office clerk Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike, left) in the new historical romance, “A United Kingdom.” Photo by Stanislav Honzik, courtesy © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

The attraction is instant and intense. It’s also one that’s frowned upon by the members of both Suretse’s and Ruth’s families. Yet, despite this opposition, Suretse refuses to return to Bechuanaland without marrying the love of his life, an act the couple defiantly carries out. Their decision carries serious consequences, not only for the future of their marriage, but also for fate of international relations at the southern tip of Africa.

As a British protectorate, Bechuanaland is seriously beholden to the wishes of the English government, particularly the dictates of Sir Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport), who oversees the crown’s diplomatic interests in the region. And, under the complicit regency of Tshekedi Khama, the British government has grown accustomed to getting what it wants. But the prospect of a Black king and his White queen coming to power is unacceptable, sending shockwaves throughout the region, as well as the member states of the British Commonwealth.

This is particularly true in neighboring South Africa, which is actively implementing its racially segregationist policy of apartheid. As a member of the Commonwealth, South Africa is not pleased with the idea of an interracial couple taking charge in an adjacent state and places pressure on the crown to thwart Suretse’s plans. Given British dependency on South Africa’s abundant and lucrative natural resources, Canning and his minions, like Rufus Lancaster (Tom Felton), feel compelled to comply. And so, with their marching orders in hand, Canning and Lancaster clandestinely seek to prevent Suretse and Ruth from rising to power – and to even be together as a married couple.

Prince Suretse Khama (David Oyelowo, right), heir apparent to the throne of the African nation of Bechuanaland, and his English wife, Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike, left), start a new family with their daughter Jacqueline (Madison Manowe, center), amidst multiple controversies in director Amma Asante’s new historical romance, “A United Kingdom.” Photo by Stanislav Honzik, courtesy © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Confident that it has matters in hand, the British government proceeds with its obstructionist plans. The ante for this gets further upped when it’s suspected that natural resources like those found in neighboring South Africa may also be present in Bechuanaland. However, for all its presumed airtight maneuverings, the crown fails to take into account the power of love and what it can accomplish – especially when in the hands of a devoted couple seeking to pursue its rightful calling, one that ultimately has impact that extends beyond just the future of their relationship.

As in her previous film, “Belle” (2013), director Amma Asante has again capably told a captivating love story that carries implications that extend beyond romance. Although a bit formulaic at times, this love story with a political twist imparts an intriguing tale of a little-known bit of history, all the while never losing sight of the romance that lit the fuse of an intense international controversy. With fine performances by Oyelowo and Pike, a cogently written script, and fine production values, this release is an enjoyable, entertaining and informative offering that delights, surprises and inspires on multiple levels.

Prince Suretse Khama (David Oyelowo, right), heir apparent to the throne of the African nation of Bechuanaland, faces complex dealings with British diplomat Sir Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport, left) in the new historical drama, “A United Kingdom.” Photo by Stanislav Honzik, courtesy © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Love truly is a force to be reckoned with, and those who attempt to deny it do so at their peril. “A United Kingdom” makes that abundantly clear, showing us just how powerful it can be.  What Suretse and Ruth wrought has had implications that have lasted to this very day, one that even impressed the likes of such accomplished leaders as Nelson Mandela. That’s saying a lot. The example set here thus provides a potent source of inspiration to anyone seeking to overcome whatever obstacles they face, be they in romance, politics or even everyday life itself.

A complete review will be available in the near future by clicking here.

My Oscar Report Card 

How’d I do on this year’s Oscar predictions? Find out by reading my blog of the same name, available by clicking here. And, to hear my interview on the subject on Frankiesense & More radio, click here.

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Paws for Reflection

Our four-legged feline friends provide many of us with tremendous joy. But, in one of the world’s most dynamic cities, cats are more than just pets; they’re an integral part of its collective soul. The impact of this is now brought to life in the engaging new documentary, “Kedi” (web site, trailer).

The City of Istanbul is at the crossroads of the world. For centuries, the port city on the cusp of Europe and Asia has been a center of trade and trading ships, many of which kept cats to help control the on-board rodent populations. When these vessels made port, many of their feline crew members disembarked and made themselves at home in this newly arrived destination. Cats from all over the world took to the streets, claiming them as their own as their ranks swelled. And, given that they now performed the same function on land that they once did aboard their sailing ships, they were warmly welcomed by the locals. The fact that the furry little creatures were adorable likely helped, too.

Through the centuries, street cats have made themselves home throughout the city, and residents have come to regard them as family, with virtually everyone taking part in helping to take care of them. It’s now hard to imagine Istanbul without its pervasive feline influence. And that influence is considerable, affecting residents’ outlooks on such matters as care, compassion and even inter-species relationships, all of which they believe are readily transferable skills that can also be applied to interpersonal dealings. They have sincerely come to believe that cats can teach us as much about ourselves as they can teach us about them.

While it might be easy to mistake this documentary for an extended cat video, “Kedi” delivers so much more – gorgeous cinematography, gentle humor and a host of insightful observations. Having seen this film in a jam-packed, 750-seat theater for a matinee showing, this release clearly proves there are audiences for content that don’t involve explosions or inane laughs. Feline lovers will no doubt adore this one the most, but those who appreciate good cinema, regardless of content, will likely find much to enjoy here, too.

The Best of Movies with Meaning – “Arrival”

Something as simple as saying “hello” shouldn’t be difficult, right? But what if we were up against that task in the context of contact with aliens? How would we respond? In fact, where would we even begin? Establishing a connection and effective communication are crucial. However, such critical concerns notwithstanding, an even more fundamental consideration is developing an understanding of how we each view the nature of existence. Without that, we may never even get to hello. These are among the questions a team of experts wrestles with in the profound, thought-provoking sci-fi thriller, “Arrival” (web site, trailer).

When linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) shows up to teach her class one day, she finds the lecture hall nearly empty. She’s somewhat surprised but decides to proceed as usual until one of her students receives a call on her cell phone who then asks that Dr. Banks turn on the classroom television to one of the news channels. Upon doing so, she and the few remaining students learn that a dozen alien ships have arrived in various locations around the globe. The enormous crafts are quite imposing but don’t appear to be an imminent threat. Nevertheless, jets are scrambled, blockades are set up and a state of emergency is declared. And class, needless to say, is canceled when a university evacuation is ordered.

Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) heads a team of experts seeking to establish communication with an alien race in the profound sci-fi thriller, “Arrival.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Dr. Banks returns home to await what’s next. But, before long, she’s contacted by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), a special forces military officer with whom she worked on special projects in the past. Because of her linguistics proficiency, she proved a valuable asset in translating messages related to the war on terror. If she were so helpful in that context, authorities presume, then she must be the go-to person to tap in learning how to communicate with aliens.

Dr. Banks is quickly whisked off to Montana, one of the alien ship landing sites. She’s teamed with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who’s anxious to learn secrets of the aliens’ technology. However, before tackling such complex tasks, Dr. Banks suggests that they take on more basic tasks – like saying hello – first. Backed by Colonel Weber, Dr. Banks sets out to determine who the visitors are and what their reason is for coming here. This thus sets in motion a remarkable journey of discovery that transcends such obvious questions, prompting Louise, Ian and the Colonel to reassess their views on the very nature of reality and our individual and collective places within it. And, with a world quickly broaching the prospect of global war because of this development, the trio of investigators had better work quickly, not only for humanity’s sake, but also for that of the new arrivals.

Deciphering an alien “language” is the objective of linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams, back to camera) in the thought-provoking sci-fi thriller, “Arrival.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

As the story unfolds, the film becomes more than just another movie about aliens. It goes much deeper to explore what it means to exist, the nature of our existence and even the essence of time. This is heady material, to be sure, but it prods viewers into taking a deeper look at who we are, how we live our lives and how we view the functioning of reality. In that sense, the picture is as much a metaphysical treatise as it is an inventive work of fiction but one that truly gives us pause to consider the core of our existence – and what we might want to do with it.

Without a doubt, “Arrival” is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a very long time. Its suspenseful, atmospheric mood, along with its profound metaphysical message, heartfelt narrative and understated performances, combine to deliver one of the most impressive pictures to come out in years. Director Denis Villeneuve’s edge-of-your-seat, edge-of-your-consciousness  thriller succeeds where predecessors like “Interstellar” (2014), “Gravity” (2013) and “2010” (1984) came up short or ended up delivering their messages in much less poetic ways. Those who take the time to truly understand this picture, in much the same way as ardent fans of “Signs” (2002) and “Contact” (1997) did, will come away richly rewarded. As for me, I left the theater awed and speechless, and, if you approach it with a similarly open mind, it just may do the same to you.

An enormous alien craft, one of 12 that have landed around the globe, harbors an enigmatic metaphysical secret in director Denis Villeneuve’s impressive release, “Arrival.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

“Arrival” was much celebrated during the recent movie awards season, taking home one Oscar on eight nominations, which included nods for best picture, director and screenplay. It also earned one BAFTA Award on nine nominations, including nods for best film, director, lead actress (Adams) and screenplay; two Critics Choice Awards, including best screenplay and best sci-fi movie, on 10 nominations, including nods for best picture, actress (Adams) and director; two Golden Globe nominations, including best actress (Adams); and one Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for best lead female (Adams). In addition, “Arrival” made the top 10 films list of the National Board of Review and earned Adams the organization’s award for best actress.

When we seek to find our place in the world, we should probably begin by seeking to understand the fundamental nature of our existence, as this picture so aptly illustrates. Should we do that, we might be very surprised at what we find – and pleasantly so at that.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.