Beauty is more than skin deep.
What price can be placed on a human life? In late 1700s England, an era of lucrative slave trading and enshrined class distinction, the answer to that question cannot be calculated without taking race and rank into account.
In the case of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Lauren Julien-Box), inconsequential might have been the verdict for this child born of a Negro slave and a Royal Navy Admiral, had not her father honored his parental responsibilities. Valuing her as a precious daughter, Captain Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode) places her in the care of his uncle, William Murray (Tom Wilkinson) while he undertakes his next royal commission.
However, Dido’s illegitimate status and black coloring make her a liability for William, who is not only the titled Earl of Mansfield but the Lord Chief Justice as well. Despite an initial lack of enthusiasm, he and his wife (Emily Watson) agree to act as the guardian of the girl. They reason she may be a suitable companion for Elizabeth Murray (Cara Jenkins), another abandoned niece they have adopted.
Yet as Dido grows to womanhood (now played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), it is she who is uncertain of her worth. Although loved by her Great Uncle and Aunt, and treated like a sister by Elizabeth (now played by Sarah Gadon), her obvious differences place her in a social status too high for the servants’ class, but still below that of her family. And when the time comes to seek husbands, the possible prospects for her and her cousin become even more divided.
It isn’t until she hears of a trial to be ruled over by her prominent uncle that Dido realizes her unique background may have a benefit. The Zong Case (also known as the Zong Massacre) involves a group of slaves that were thrown overboard during shipment because the crew didn’t have enough drinking water for both themselves and their human cargo. Inspired by the ideas of her Uncle’s law apprentice John Davinier (Sam Reid), Dido embraces the abolition movement that is beginning to creep into the consciousness of the British Empire. Still, can her own life serve as a reason for her Uncle to rule against the sailors, or will the pressure he feels to support England’s commercial interests trample the tender relationship the pair has previously enjoyed?
Based on a true story, the significance of Dido Elizabeth Belle’s existence has only recently been brought to the public’s attention. Although the part she plays in history can only be guessed at, the film’s creators have used what is known of her story to craft a beautiful tale of love, tolerance and human dignity. With little content to concern family viewers, this portrait of a tenacious woman shows how one small life can have a bigger influence. Her example embodies the priceless ideal that doing what is right is never impossible—even though it may seem that way.
Release Date: LIMITED: US: 2 May 2014 / Canada: 23 May 2014