There’s a difficult tonal tightrope being walked on at the heart of A United Kingdom, the new film from Amma Asante, based on the real life relationship between Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). Beginning in London in 1947, we meet Khama while he’s studying law in Oxford, listening to jazz in classy social clubs and preparing to take over the throne of Bechuanaland from his uncle (Vusi Kunene), who’s been serving as regent over the kingdom in Seretse’s absence. Everything is going according to plan until he meets Ruth one night, connecting with her over their shared love of jazz and undeniable chemistry.
Falling in love is the last thing either of them need, but still they spend their nights walking through London into the hours of the early morning until Seretse finally proposes to Ruth, asking her to go back to Bechuanaland with him as his wife. She instantly agrees as the two begin making preparations for their wedding, but there’s only one problem: he’s black and she’s white. Both of their families disapprove, with Ruth’s father threatening to completely disown her at the news, and Seretse’s uncle trying to force him to abdicate the throne should he move forward with his marriage to Ruth.