The second feature to be written and directed by the British filmmaker Amma Asante, “Belle” will tell the story of a mixed-race woman raised as an aristocrat in 18th-century England. Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804) was the illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay of the British navy and an enslaved woman, herself known as Belle.
The movie is partially inspired by the above painting (artist unknown), in which Dido, wearing a turban, stands to the right of her orphaned cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. Both girls were raised by Lindsay’s cousin William Murray, the Earl of Mansfield, and his wife Elizabeth at Kenwood House in Hampstead, near London. It is likely that Dido was adopted as a companion for Elizabeth. She lived at Kenwood for about 30 years.
Asante has cast Gugu Mbatha Raw as Dido in “Belle,” which starts shooting at Pinewood Studios on September 24. The impressive cast also includes Sam Reid, “Harry Potter” alum Tom Felton, Sam Reid, Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson, Penelope Wilton, Sarah Gadon, and James Norton.
Reid will play Dido’s lover, John Davinier, whom she married in 1893. They had three sons and belonged to the parish of St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, near present-day Oxford Circus.
Like Andrea Arnold’s upcoming “Wuthering Heights,” in which black actors play the young and grownup Heathcliffe, “Belle” will bring some urgent racial consciousness to the WASPy world of the British heritage drama.
According to the entry on Dido in Wikipedia, “her position was unusual because she was formally the daughter of a slave, and as such would have been considered a slave outside of Britain. But she was to some extent treated as a member…
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