Dido Elizabeth Belle is the biracial daughter of an English naval captain in the late 1700s and her father has made the unusual move to claim her as his daughter and send her to relatives to be raised along with another niece. Years pass and he perishes before she ever has a chance to get to know him, although his death leaves her an heiress and frees her from having to find someone of her social status to marry who isn't turned off by the fact that she's black. But being a spinster is a lonely life and, with the slave trade still ongoing and popular among the people, is she really that much freer than her cousin?
The main reason why historical films aren't my favorite is because I often have a little voice in the back of my head saying "but how much of this is REAL?" whenever I watch and frankly that's just distracting. And yet, in this movie I didn't mind as much since I truly was enjoying it, Scandalous Women says much the same thing and she also breaks down a few fact and fiction things about Dido's life and I found it interesting that the movie both made Dido's position in her family more precarious (they seem to think the only choice available to her is to become the care-taker of the estate, even though the heir might not be generous enough to let her stay there) and yet also make her an heiress, they must have created it just to complicate the story and yet it does work. I did think it was a bit underhanded of the movie however to introduce us to Belle's husband but under completely different circumstances since the credits merely say that she does in fact marry and have children, although I can forgive it for making this happen years earlier so that the timing can match the timing of the Zong case. And, while I had no doubt that the Zong case must be a real event it was interesting to see that the Chief High Justice was in fact her guardian so she did have a tenuous connection to the case in both real life and the movie.
I do also think it was a good move to have the story also focus on this legal case and to frame it as a kind of secondary story against Belle's own since, as engaging as her storyline was, there just wouldn't have been enough to make a full movie out of it otherwise. And it's certainly appropriate to balance Dido's own confusion about where she stands in British social life against the debate of are slaves cargo or are they human, the movie was able to have some rather great speeches on the subject and human rights in general. So not only did I like that plot line, and the subplot/relationship between Dido and her cousin Elizabeth (although it was a little short since they were being very careful not to not give her a role big enough that people would forget who the main character was) but this was also the first film in a while where I really appreciated the framing of it. The garden scenes were arranged like a period painting and there were several other wonderfully dramatic shots of Dido throughout the film which would have made for great posters. Plus the way the movie kept isolating Dido even in her own home and the colorful, yet muted color pallets and lighting just really brought it all together, I ended up enjoying this movie more than I had hoped and have no problem with recommending it to anyone who likes historicals.