ByRedmond Bacon, writer at
Have realised my dream of finally living in Berlin. I like movies, techno, and talking too much in bars.

What's more complicated: the affairs of the heart, or the affairs of your country? The two have been intertwined since the beginning of recorded history - think Helen of Troy, "the face that launched a thousand ships", or Wallis Simpson, for whom King Edward VIII abdicated.

However, less well known is the relationship between the chief of the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now known as Botswana) Seretse Khama and his English wife Ruth Williams, one that - by mere fact of being interracial - threatened the political stability of the country. Watch the soul-stirring trailer below:

It stars David Oyelowo opposite Rosamund Pike, in a film that, in depicting how awfully racist people used to be, surely has Oscar winning potential, especially with its "true story" credentials. But what exactly is the true story behind the "love that defeated an empire"?

Meet Cute

He had just graduated from Balliol college, Oxford, and was training in Inner Temple to become a lawyer. Ruth, after serving in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during the Second World War, was working as a clerk in Lloyd's Bank. They met at a Missionary Society Dance in June 1947, and after initially not getting on, they bonded over a shared love of jazz music. After a year of dating, he proposed to her and she said 'yes'.

Controversial Marriage

Apart from the two lovers, the engagement offended basically everybody else. Ruth's father disowned her and her employer laid her off, and when Seretse wrote to his uncle, he tried to get the local missionary society to intervene. As they found they couldn't get married by the Church without express permission of the British government, they instead had a civil ceremony at the Kensington Registry Office. Moving back to Bechuanaland proved even more difficult, with uncle Tshekedi saying upon his return:

"if he brings his white wife here, I will fight him to the death"

What Tschekedi - who some suspected wanted to be leader himself - had underestimated was the resolve of his nephew to be with the woman he loved. Among a meeting of tribal elders, Seretse did not budge on his position, and respecting his determination, they voted him in. His uncle left in disgrace.

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Opposition From The South Africans

The problems did not stop there. South of the border were the South Africans, who still under the horror of apartheid, were positively mortified that the leader of Bechuanaland was married to a white women. Their proof that love cares about no race was too much for them, so they pressured the British government - as those ultimately in charge of the nation - to do something about it. The Government conceded that:

"We have no hesitation in finding that, but for his unfortunate marriage, his prospects as Chief are as bright as those of any native in Africa with whom we have come into contact"

Invited by the Labour government to London to talk about the future of the tribe, Seretse found out upon his arrival that he had been exiled from his own country. He telegrammed his wife:

"Tribe and myself tricked by British government. Am banned from whole protectorate. Love. Seretse."

Exile and Return To Glory

Once the British people, and the opposition party found out about what had happened, they were appalled, with Tory leader Winston Churchill saying that it was "a very disreputable transaction". Eventually in 1956, they were both allowed to return to the country, but only as private citizens and not as leader and wife. It was from these ashes that he built the Bechuanaland democratic party, winning the elections in 1965. The following year the country became independent, and was renamed Botswana.

When he took over as president it was the third poorest country in Africa. His combination of low taxes, high investment, a commitment to minimising corruption, and generating high amounts of money through mining has led Botswana to be one of the strongest economies in Africa.

What Can We Expect?

Director Assante's Previous Film Belle.
Director Assante's Previous Film Belle.

The story is a compelling one - taking us from the rainy streets of post-War London to the wide plains of Africa. The message that loves saves all is timeless, but the narrative is also rooted in a certain specificity. The director is Amma Asante, who made her name with Belle, also examining race-relations. The choice of a black-British director is a smart one, because it ensures that the racism both of them suffered from will not be toned down for the sake of its prestige audience.

With more and more films being made in America about the horrors of slavery, there aren't enough depictions criticising the harshness of British colonial rule, something that can often be forgotten when every other prestige movie about oppression is usually about the Nazis. Done correctly this could be a very powerful film indeed.

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Sources: Guardian, The Inner Temple


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