Astrology: Film: Review: ‘Belle’ (2014)

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Fox Searchlight

Take away the mid-18th century periodicity of Belle, and you’ve got a movie about social justice that’s as contemporary as they come.

Directed by Amma Asante and loosely based on a true story, Belle is the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of a Royal Navy captain and a slave. The movie begins as her father (Matthew Goode) – who’s ready to embark on another naval assignment –  brings the girl to his uncle, William Murray (Tom Wilkinson), the Earl of Mansfield and a revered judge. Murray and his missus (Emily Watson), who are also the guardians of another grandniece named Elizabeth, become Dido’s new caretakers.

The two girls, inseparable throughout their childhood and adolescence and with true affection for each other, have received the same educational opportunities and splendid fashion finery. However, as the girls blossom into adulthood, when husband-hunting becomes a focus, it’s clear the social privileges accorded to Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) – who is, through her father, an heiress – are not as comprehensive as the ones granted to Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon). Dido can’t eat with the guests at the family table, lest her mixed-race presence generate discomfort among the invited. She’s allowed only to mingle in the main room after dinner. And, like a snake in the grass, the word “mulatto” starts getting bandied about by parents with marriageable sons who’d like a piece of Dido’s financial birthright, even though they’re turned off by her exotic beauty.

What ties Belle’s big egalitarian ideas together is a weighty insurance ruling that Lord Mansfield must oversee. The Zong case, named for an English slave ship, involved the ship’s owners asking for monetary compensation for several dozen dead slaves who were being transported from Africa to England. These slaves – reportedly diseased and, therefore, a danger to the crew and financially worthless on the mainland – were killed at sea. A ruling in favor of the ship’s owners for these losses would clearly equate human slaves’ lives with commercial goods and cargo.

Vociferously opposed to the notion that any insurance monies be paid out is John Davinier (Sam Reid), who is apprenticed to the Earl. It doesn’t take long for the ludicrous specimens of husband-material that Belle must tolerate to fade from view. What emerges, in their place, are the progressive, abolitionist sparks of both Davinier and Belle, who has experienced the belittling demands about keeping her place in society, even in her own home.

Although the Uranian theme of revolution and progress is a motif here, Belle’s predominant archetype is Jupiter, whose domain is higher mind, teaching, the law and, with a nod to the fact that Davinier is a poor vicar’s son, religion and ethics. Unfailingly direct, the Jupiterian role is always to see the bigger picture, as opposed to Mercury’s function which tends to value information for its own sake.

At the beginning of the movie, Dido’s father says, “I’m here to take you to a good life” which also bespeaks the generosity and largesse associated with Jupiter. The movie’s message is that Belle, through her association with Davinier, became instrumental in championing a moral stance and ruling which abolished the British slave trade.

Seen in a painted portrait, along with her sister, at the end of the film, Belle, in real life, truly became part of a grander piece of canvas.

Astrology Film Rating: ♃ (Jupiter)

 

 

 

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