A United Kingdom is an extraordinary true story about a remarkable young couple who meet, fall in love and resolve to marry – even though their decision puts them at the centre of a raging international controversy.
In 1947, Seretse Khama, the King of Botswana, met Ruth Williams, a London office worker. The attraction was immediate: she was captivated by his vision for a better world; he was struck by her willingness to embrace it. They were a perfect match, yet their proposed marriage was challenged not only by their families but by the British and South African governments.
By believing in the power of their love, Ruth and Seretse transformed their nation, paved the road to change in modern Africa, and inspired the world.
A United Kingdom is directed by Amma Asante (Belle, A Way of Life). It is written for the screen by Guy Hibbert (Eye in the Sky, Five Minutes of Heaven) who adapted it from Susan Williams’s book 'Colour Bar'.
David Oyelowo (Selma, Jack Reacher) and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, Jack Reacher) star as Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams and they are simply stunning! It is evident that it is a film that both Oyelowo and Pike are extremely passionate about.
The idea for A United Kingdom first came into being in 2010, when actor David Oyelowo was working on the film 96 Minutes. Its producers, Justin Moore-Lewy and Charlie Mason, had bought the rights to Susan Williams’s book 'Colour Bar'.
“I remember very clearly Justin approaching me on set with the book, and handing it to me,” says Oyelowo. “I was so arrested by the image of the cover photo of Seretse and Ruth, looking very glamorous and happy. I knew nothing of them. I had no idea he was an African prince.
“But I read the book and was just intoxicated by the power their love had over political establishments. Their love was such a potent thing. It wasn’t like Ruth had grown up in some political family and always had this conviction about racism. So it was very clear to me that their love was very pure and diamond-like; it was able to cut through all this prejudice they faced, having got married.
“So when I first came upon this story, I became obsessed with the idea of it becoming a film. I’m a proud African, and an avid excavator of African stories that could be told on film.”
The three of them tried to get the film off the ground – “to be honest, with very little success,” as Oyelowo recalls. “When we first sent the script out to agents and it was clear I would be playing Seretse, people said no.”
In stepped the veteran producer of Star Wars, Rick McCallum. He had produced a film with David in a significant role; Red Tails, about African-American pilots in World War II. He recalls: “I have filmed all over Africa but I had never heard about this amazing part of Botswana’s history. I was enchanted by the story and thrilled that David had brought me the book and that I could be a part of making this film. He was so passionate about the project – and it was so apparent from the minute that George Lucas and I met him for Red Tails that he was going break out as an actor in a big way. I warned David that it would take some time – that he would have to be patient until he reached a higher profile but we all agreed from that moment that we would not, under any circumstances, make the film unless David played the part of Seretse. It was also extremely important for David that he wanted to play a major part in controlling the future of his own work by helping to produce the film as well. One of the big frustrations for David was finding stories that contextualise what it is to be black, told from a black protagonist’s point of view. We also all agreed that it was absolutely essential that we shoot the film in Botswana. There was a tremendous amount of pressure for us to make the film in South Africa (because of the infrastructure and tax breaks), but all of us were in agreement that the only place for us to make the film was where the events actually happened. The moment everything changed was when we had our first meeting with Cameron McCracken (London based MD of Pathe and Executive Producer of the film) – he committed immediately (having worked with David on Selma) and from that moment we were on our way, eventually joined by the BBC, the BFI and Ingenious."
Pike joined the cast when “David sent me a book of photos of Ruth and Seretse, together with a script,” she recalls. “I scrolled through images of them. There was one of them sitting side by side, the two of them close up to each other. It was like someone had flicked on a switch. I felt tears streaming down my face. Something about them moved me so much.” She then read the script: “It bore out everything I had hoped for.”
A United Kingdom is a beautifully told and heart-warming film with perhaps an old-fashioned message, which is relevant today, that love can indeed conquer all.
A United Kingdom is at Showcase Cinemas from November 25