movie: Belle (2013)

watch the movie for free: here

If you have already watched Beauty & the Beast, you might be familiar with this character, Plumette, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw:

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Plumette, the feather duster on Beauty and the Beast, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Mesmerized by Gugu’s beauty, I decided to find out more about her. It turns out that Gugu ever played in a phenomenal 2013 movie called Belle, an internationally-acclaimed movie based on the true story of the mulatto (mix of Caucasian and African) heiress Dido Elizabeth Belle.

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Belle, in French, means “Beauty”

The movie Belle takes place in the 1769 and circles around the mixed-race heiress Dido Elizabeth Belle, whose father is a British Royal Navy named Captain Sir John Lindsay, while her mother is an African slave stationed in West Indies, Maria Belle. Although Dido is an illegitimate child, Captain Sir John still assumes her as his own daughter and saves her from the horrible condition of the slums. Since Captain Sir John has to travel around the world, Dido is entrusted to his uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Mansfield, with their orphaned niece Lady Elizabeth Murray as Dido’s companion. At first, both Lord and Lady Mansfield are rather skeptical with Dido being black (“But she is black!”), yet Sir John assures them that “what is right can never be impossible”. Finally, Dido lives with them all, in a very privileged estate named Kenwood House. Every day, Dido is taught music, art, and literature by the governess named Lady Mary. Despite being a slave’s daughter, Dido lives among wealth.

When she’s twenty years old, Dido receives a trust fund of ‎£2000/year from her deceased father, making her a heiress. Although she is rich and educated, Dido still cannot join dinner when there are guests coming to Kenwood House — this is merely because she is illegitimate, and that kind of caste/etiquette is important in old period England. Dido inquires Lord Mansfield about the particular matter, but he only answers with a “Finances may go some way – but Society has a habit of disregarding even one of their own, when opportunity provides“. Meaning: Even if Dido owns £2000/year, she is unable to dine with guests because of societal constraints, since she is a half-black illegitimate daughter from a respectable English man.

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Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) asking Lord Mansfield, her adoptive father: “How may I be too high in rank to dine with the servants, and too low to dine with my family?”

Lord Mansfield, being the chief justice of law, is confounded with the case of Zong Massacre — the mass killing of 133 African slaves solely for the profit of getting more insurance money. Mr. John Davinier, the apprentice (student) of Lord Mansfield, believes that the case is indisputably illegal, thus should have just been claimed as a fraud. Nonetheless, Lord Mansfield disagrees with Mr. Davinier, making him feeling hostile towards the latter. Dido is interested in the Zong Massacre case, and discusses the matter with Mr. Davinier to the point that they both fall in love; “I have never heard anyone speak like you“, says Dido admirably to him.

At first, Lord Mansfield is skeptical, even angry, when he acknowledges the love between Dido and Mr. Davinier. Only the humble son of a clergyman, Mr. Davinier is assumed by Lord Mansfield as not up to par with Dido’s social rank. Even though Dido has already had a fiance, she still surreptitiously meets with Mr. Davinier in a purple cape.

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Dido asks Mr. Davinier, as she is confused with her being a free black woman, yet still tries hard to find eligible men to marry her: “We are but their (men’s) property. And it came into my head that I have been blessed with freedom twice over? As a negro and as a woman?”

In which he replies with: “Unless she marries her equal. Her true equal – A man who respects her.”

A sweet conversation between the two lovebirds also include Mr. Davinier asking Dido whether she knows her birth mother, which she answers with: “I know very little of her than the colour she has given me.” (Dido does not know her mother, besides the skin color she has given her — absolutely not white)

Mr. Davinier proceeds by saying such a loving sentence, “Then at the least, you know she was beautiful.

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In the end, Dido finally realizes how her fiance only loves her for the money, her father’s inheritance. After Mr. Davinier confesses his love towards her, “I love her! I love her with every single breath that I breathe!“, Dido agrees to become his wife. In addition to that, Lord Mansfield closes the Zong Massacre case, claiming it as a fraudulence for insurance money against humanity. According to the movie, this case becomes the first step for Abolitionist Act in the United Kingdom.

I have watched this particular movie over and over — I used to think Pride and Prejudice as my favorite English drama movie, but Belle certainly is my favorite now! This is just so different from any other period film that usually centers only on brutal slavery and mighty Caucasians. Before watching this movie, I never knew that there used to be a mixed-race heiress whose mother is a slave — that’s just beyond my acknowledgment. I really thought English drama is always about white people. Obviously, the historical accuracy in this film is low. The real Dido did not dwell with the Zong Massacre case, even if Lord Mansfield really did so. But through this movie, Zong Massacre is now recognized, and it really is as terrible as it sounds like! Slaves were chained as one, and then drowned in the sea as if they were not human beings. At that time, human cargo seemed just ordinary, a cargo that shipped slaves all around the world..

“.But religion cannot be the only guardian of our morality. It lost most of its slaves before arriving at its destination. Drowned – by the crew on the captain’s order.”

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The real painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. In the movie, Dido is afraid for not being painted as Lady Elizabeth’s equal — she is afraid to be painted as the submissive slave.
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