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BFI_Filmmakers_Issue_5_V10

A UNITED KINGDOM WENDY IDE TALKS TO AMMA ASANTE ABOUT HER NEW DRAMA n 1947, in a London struggling to pull itself up by the bootstraps after the Second World War, a young woman met a man at a dance. They fell in love and decided that the one sure thing in those uncertain times was the fact that they wanted to marry and spend their lives together. But the ‘happily ever after’ was a little more complicated. Not only was she white and he black, she was Ruth Williams, a clerk from Blackheath, and he was Seretse Khama, the heir to the throne of what was then known as Bechuanaland (later Botswana). It was a union opposed by seemingly everyone. There was her conservative family and his formidable Uncle and guardian, the people of his tribe and the British government. Acting to appease South Africa, they enforced exile on Seretse resulting in his separation from his wife and country. It’s with this extraordinary love story that Amma Asante follows the success of Belle, with David Oyelowo magnetic in the role of Seretse and Rosamund Pike combining an endearingly gauche awkwardness with a quiet inner fortitude as Ruth. Shot in the UK and Botswana, it’s a handsomely mounted production that deftly juggles both the intimacy of the romance and its seismic historical implications. How much did you know of the story before you got involved in the project? AA I actually wasn’t aware of it at all in any shape or form. Essentially what happened was that David Oyelowo, Rick McCallum, the producer, and writer Guy Hibbert were on board with the project long ago. David read the book, ‘Colour Bar’, by Susan Williams, which is just a brilliant, brilliant piece of work. About a year-and-a-half ago, David called me up and said, “Look, I have this passion project. I believe that now is the time to make it because I’ve got a gap in my schedule, it’s right after Selma, but we need to find the right director.” So he sent me a photo essay and I was completely stunned, mainly because I felt slightly foolish not knowing about them. I read the script, and then when I read the book I was floored by the political side of it and also by the position with the UK Government. I became really obsessed with how one could tell a story, a love story, but have all of these political elements come through the prism of this and how to tell a love story where the couple are apart for a large chunk of the film. So once you came on board, was the funding fully in place or did it take a while to put together? Pathé were on board throughout development and were always going to fund the film, but we did need the BBC and the BFI. They came on board after I joined. We always knew it was going to be ambitious and I really think our ability to achieve that ambition was down to Rick McCallum, the producer. He is such an interesting character. He was one of the producers on Star Wars, so has worked on ambitious projects before. But he loves the rawness of an independent film. He always wanted to find a way to allow the vision to be achieved. You shot in the UK and in Botswana. It must be a significant story for the crew from Botswana. Did they have any input that they brought to you? For the most part, it was very clear that Seretse was a hero for them, along with the love and respect that they had for Ruth. So much so that when I first started going over there to do my research, it was very hard to find out how Ruth might have been received originally. I’m pretty sure I knew because of my African roots. My uncle is a chief in Ghana and I know my mum well enough to know that a reaction to a white queen coming over to preside over their nation was not going to be an easy one, so I was digging to uncover what those reactions were like in order to ensure that Ruth had her arc. I couldn’t get any information because all that I was getting was love and respect. It was also clear the importance of us telling the story because our crew was young – age 40 downwards – and although they knew the outline of the story, they didn’t have the details, so our film opened the story to them. The UK sections were not so familiar and some of them thought that Ruth herself was upper class or came from royalty, so they were very surprised to find out that she was a lower middleclass woman from Blackheath. I Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo


BFI_Filmmakers_Issue_5_V10
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