We wanted to like it. The preview trailers had seemed promising. So much was right with the equation: period passion, actors with long track records, and social justice.
Why did it have to be so plodding?
The logline for Belle sums it up: “An illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle.” There is a little more…but there should have been so very much more…or less. The story should have been more robust within the same amount of time, or perhaps trimming twenty or thirty minutes of the film would have revitalized it.
It’s always a joy to see Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, and Penelope Wilton, and the younger set of actors offer some compelling screen moments, too, but my friend Allison and I couldn’t help but share one unlikely but sort of funny take away.
In some weird way, Belle reminds me of the most recent season of the ABC series Scandal (and Allison didn’t disagree). Just as this season used an endless series of closeups of Olivia (Kerry Washington) looking mostly sad or bemused or wistful to mask her advancing pregnancy, Belle offers a series of closeups of Gugu Mbatha-Raw looking equally vulnerable.
What is it with these eponymous characters who are each contextually bold and bright if not fearless but visually defenseless? Talk about a scenario that promotes cognitive dissonance! And, the result despite their principled stands, smarts, and degrees of privilege is to render both women impotent on some level.
Not to mention that the static images, in these two cases, can make for plodding narratives. Maybe things will pick up next season on Scandal, but that’s not an option for Belle. If you’re a sucker for English period drama, then you will enjoy the costumes and locations, but be prepared for pacing problems quite separate from the period.