'Belle' breaks through the aristocratic color barrier
"I was somewhat frustrated, I have always loved period dramas and my friends were in these gorgeous-looking Jane Austen adaptations," says Mbatha-Raw, 30. "I would be like, ‘I have all of this training, when will I get a chance to explore that side?’ " Mbatha-Raw, who has held roles in several TV series and was a supporting player in the 2011 Tom Hanks vehicle Larry Crowne, finally has found her opportunity in Belle (opening May 2, 2014). It’s the exceedingly rare story of a mixed-race woman who transcended the lily-white aristocracy of 18th-century England.
Belle is inspired by the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, who was born as the result of an affair between British naval officer Capt. Sir John Lindsay and an African slave woman who died when Belle was young. Lindsay (Matthew Goode) beseeched his uncle, the Earl of Mansfield and England’s Lord Chief Justice (Tom Wilkinson), to raise his mixed-race daughter in the manner befitting his aristocratic bloodline — unheard of in England at the time.
Lord Mansfield agreed and raised Belle with deep affection along with his niece, Lady Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon), at his Kenwood House estate.