They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and according to Actress/Director/Writer Amma Asante, those words ring true. Her latest, highly anticipated period drama Belle, which will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, was inspired by the 1779 Johann Zoffany paining of Dido Elizabeth Belle, which hangs in Scotland’s Scone Palace.
Dido Elizabeth Belle was the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay of the Royal Navy and a black African slave (known only as Belle) he met while sailing in the Caribbean. Belle died shortly after childbirth and the Admiral took Dido back to England. She was adopted and raised by Admiral Lindsay’s aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice, and his wife, Lady Mansfield. Amma Asante co-wrote the screenplay for Belle with Misan Sagay, inspired by the true-life story of Dido.
Newcomer Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Dido. Gugu was seen briefly in the short-lived TV series Undercovers. Tom Wilkinson (The Lone Ranger, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Michael Clayton) plays Dido’s adoptive father and Emily Watson (Breaking The Waves, The Boxer, War Horse) plays her adoptive mother. Dido’s lineage affords her certain aristocratic privileges, but her mixed-race status prevents her from noble social standing. While her cousin, played by Sarah Godon (Cosmopolis, A Dangerous Method), flirts and entertains suitors, Dido is left on the sidelines, wondering if she will always be alone. She meets and falls in love with an idealistic Vicar’s son, played by Sam Reid (Endeavor, The Railway Man) who successfully convinces Lord Mansfield to use his position as Chief Justice to abolish slavery in England.
Amma Asante’s 2004 directorial debut, A Way Of Life, earned her The Times Breakthrough Artist of the Year Award as well as the London Film Critics Best Newcomer Award. The British Film Institute, Pinewood Films and Bankside Films are producing Belle along with Damian Jones (The Iron Lady). Fox Searchlight will distribute the film.
Miranda Richardson (The Young Victoria), Sam Claflin (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), Penelope Winton (Downton Abbey), Mathew Goode (Stoker, A Single Man) and Tom Felton (The Harry Potter series) also star.
The world premiere of Belle will be at this years Toronto International Film Festival (Sept 5 -17). The film will be released in U.S. theaters May 2, 2014.