A United Kingdom: Amma Asante's New Film Explores Botswana's Founding Leader, Seretse Khama's Marriage to a White English Woman-And How the British Establishment Attempted to Sabotage It

By Andrews, Beverly | New African, November 2016 | Go to article overview

A United Kingdom: Amma Asante's New Film Explores Botswana's Founding Leader, Seretse Khama's Marriage to a White English Woman-And How the British Establishment Attempted to Sabotage It


Andrews, Beverly, New African


Any study of Britain's post-colonial treatment of many of its former colonies and protectorates does not make for particularly pleasant reading. Many of the world's current political problems can in fact be traced back to Britain's behaviour, either at the height of empire or in its immediate aftermath. A little-known incident during this period is beautifully captured in the latest film from acclaimed director, Amma Asante. A United Kingdom looks at Britain's determined efforts to destroy the relationship between Seretse Khama, King of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana), and Ruth Williams, a white English woman he met in Britain and later married in 1947. It was done all in the name of a desire not to jeopardise their lucrative relationship with apartheid-era South Africa. This beautifully crafted film charts one of the UK's darker political moments.

The film opens with the young Seretse meeting Ruth Williams for the first time while studying in the UK. Their falling in love and announcing their intention to marry acts as a catalyst for both family and diplomatic pressure to be brought to bear in order to tear the couple apart. Williams' father refuses to attend the wedding, her sister does so, albeit reluctantly, and the Home Office makes clear its displeasure, threatening diplomatic consequences. The couple will not be deterred though, and travel back to the king's native country, not realising the level of opposition they will face once they arrive.

In a recent interview with London's Guardian newspaper, Asante stated: "The sense I got while we were filming was that [Botswanans] knew this was a great story, but [it] was an untold story, one that most of the world didn't know about today... There was relief, and of course a curiosity, as to how their country, and they as a people, would be reflected on screen."

Although United Kingdom's main focus is charting the extraordinary lengths the British government went to in order to destroy the relationship, it does not draw back from showing how much opposition this marriage encountered in the kingdom itself as well as among members of Seretse's own family, including his powerful uncle, who bitterly opposed the union.

But although those living in the country may not have been entirely happy with Ruth Williams' presence by the king's side, they gradually grow to respect his choice and Williams' own tenacity as well as her determination, despite illness, to fit into traditional African life. …

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