A United Kingdom, a powerful historical drama starring David Oyelowo (Selma) and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) hits theaters today and promises to inspire and uplift audiences at a time when the world seems particularly divided.
Based on Susan Williams's 2006 nonfiction book "Colour Bar", the film opens in 1941, when the Prince of Beuchuanaland, Seretse Khama (Oyelowow) is studying law in post-WWII London. There, he meets Ruth Williams (Pike) at a church dance, and they two have instant chemistry, united by their love for jazz and commitment to the public good. The two soon fall in love, and after a brief courtship, Ruth accepts Seretse's marriage proposal.
However, Seretse and Ruth's relationship isn't exactly looked upon favorably by their friends and family - not to mention the British and South African governments, who actively seek to force the dissolution of their marriage.
Directed by Amma Asante and beautifully shot on locations in the UK and Botswana, A United Kingdom expertly tackles the all-too-relevant issues of prejudice, racism and political unrest while reminding audiences that ultimately, love has the power to unite - even in the most divided of times.
In this exclusive interview for The Gospel Herald, Oyelowo opened up about the deeper themes in A United Kingdom, the parallels between himself and the king he plays, and how his Christian faith influences his career.
GH: What was your experience with the story told in A United Kingdom before signing on to the project? Was it well known in British culture?
DO: It was not well known, certainly to me, and I know it's not well known in British culture even now - it's certainly not taught in schools. When a producer I was working with told me about this story, I was shocked that I didn't know it. But, that's one of the main reasons I decided to take on this project. I was inspired by the love these two people had for each other and how that love enabled them to overcome tremendous opposition.
GH: The film has taken on a more timely nature given recent executive orders on and protests against immigration bans. It seems like the act of dividing people has always been a political tactic. Can you talk about that as it pertains to the film?
DO: I think you're absolutely right. When we were shooting the film, we never thought there would be resonance, where you're seeing scenes in which an African prince is being banned from returning to his country because he married a white woman. This film really demonstrates that love can conquer all. At the end of the day, no matter what is going on governmentally or otherwise to keep people apart, it can be conquered - and that is through love.
GH: A United Kingdom has multiple meanings here. It obviously hints at the United Kingdom as a country, but also points to something much bigger. What is the broader Kingdom it refers to?
DO: Absolutely. It's a play on words; some of the film takes place in the United Kingdom, but ironically, the kingdom that really becomes united is one in Southern Africa as a result of two people from different countries who deeply love one another.
GH: What are some points you hope audiences take away from this film that can help us live better today?
DO: These two people fell in love very quickly, but they also had to grow up very quickly as a result. I am so inspired by the two of them in the fact that they were determined enough to stay together, while many other people would have felt the need to walk away from each other. Their relationships was stronger for it, and helped them form a nation that was also a beneficiary of seeing an example of love within their leadership. And, even though Seretse was banned from being king, he went on to be the first democratically elected president of the independent Botswana.
GH: Rosamund Pike gives another strong performance as Ruth. What does her character have to say about cross cultural experiences and how we learn from and partner with people different from us?
DO: I think the amazing thing about her is that she didn't see Seretse as this "black man". She just met someone who she fell in love with. She fell in love with his soul, with whom he was, and his intellect. Of course, she knew he was a black man, and knew he was from elsewhere, but those things were of less concern. I believe true love doesn't see color or those things that are superficially different about us. It's a connection to the soul, and even beyond that, she wholeheartedly embraced her husband's country and his culture. I find her to be an incredibly powerful and brave woman.
GH: How has this film shaped you? In what was have you grown or do you now see the world differently through this experience?
DO: To be honest, I'm married to a white lady myself, and I don't wake up in the morning thinking, "Oh, I'm married to a white woman." No, I'm married to Jessica who I deeply and dearly love. I find myself incredibly grateful that Jess and I haven't had to face anything like what Seretse and Ruth faced in order to stay together, but it's also made me grateful for what we have.
GH: You are vocal about your faith. How does it affect your work and the movies you choose to appear in?
DO: I pray about anything I'm contemplating, and the moral compass my faith gives me tells me what to entertain and what not to entertain. I don't shy away from darkness in my films, because for me, light shines brightest in darkness. But, I won't promote or glamorize darkness in the films I do. My faith and my being a father very much guides me in terms of what I do, because I want to practice what I preach both as a Christian and as a father.
I'm also always looking for things that challenge me. When I happen upon a character, I don't immediately know how I will play them. To be scared can bring out the best in me. I do try to do films that both entertain and are meaningful, but also films that I would want to see.