In this period drama, we follow the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate, biracial daughter of Sir John Lindsay, a Royal Navy Captain. After the death of her mother, Captain Lindsay (Matthew Goode) brings his beloved young daughter to his aunt and uncle to raise, promising to send money to provide for her, a proposal to which the childless couple hesitantly agree. Her great-uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson) raise not just Belle, but her cousin, Elizabeth, whom has been abandoned by her own father upon his remarriage.
Belle is loved by her great-aunt and uncle, and she and Elizabeth are like sisters, but despite her elevated social standing, and the immense wealth left to her by her father, nothing can change the fact that she is Black, and what this means. Belle has no peers within her race, as the few biracial men and women around her don’t come close to having her financial means, and her family doesn’t associate with Black people anyway, and despite her money, her Blackness means that her marriage prospects are slim to none.
Belle is a Black woman surrounded by claustrophobic whiteness in the form of family. Her aunt and uncle, Chief Royal Judge, while they have the financial means and social clout to be champions for all Black people, and thus ensure social equality for their great-niece, focus instead on avoiding the topic of her colour and simply giving their token negro as much “love” as they can without having to leave their comfort zones and alienating their slave-owning friends. As we watch Belle spiral deeper into loneliness and social isolation, we are also painted a vivid portrait of how white family members can emotionally blackmail biracial people into not speaking up on racial issues.”
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