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The trailer for ‘Belle’: A period drama with substance and romance?

Neela Debnath

During my meanderings on YouTube I recently stumbled across a trailer that has left me reeling with excitement. With a stellar cast boasting the likes of Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson and Tom Wilkinson, it is not one to be dismissed easily – for Harry Potter fans Tom Felton is also thrown into the mix.

The film trailer was for Belle, a period drama that takes the romance of Pride and Prejudice and uses it to address the issue of class, race and slavery in 18th Century Britain. Written by Amma Asante, Belle tells the true story of mixed race woman Dido Elizabeth Belle, who was brought up by her aristocratic uncle and aunt in England. It focuses on the struggles she faced as an ethnic woman of noble birth trying to navigate her way through society, all this against the backdrop of a nation considering the abolition of slavery.

The heroine is played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who has been a fixture on British television for quite a while now, albeit in minor roles. Yet Belle will give Mbatha-Raw the opportunity to shine – that’s if the trailer is anything to go by. It’s a lavish production that is likely to leave audiences a little weepy. The film was shown at the Toronto Film Festival back in September and early reviews have generally been positive.

While 12 Years a Slave is a much more brutal and hard-hitting take on this difficult topic, perhaps this softer, British period drama will appeal to the masses – that’s if the universal popularity of Downton Abbey is any measure of viewing trends.

The insatiable appetite for period drama is leading to the birth of new stories – rather than revisiting and rehashing the works of Dickens and Austen. On top of this, we are now seeing more characters from ethnic minorities in our period dramas. From Downton Abbey to Dancing on the Edge, ethnic minority characters are having a greater presence in period drama. It is a small trend but one that paints a more detailed picture of era depicted on screen. Within this mix, the stories of lesser known figures are now coming to light, including Belle’s tale.

‘Belle’ will be released in spring 2014

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