Good movie, go see it.
There are no surprises in Belle, the historical outcome is pretty much as you expect it will be; Lord Chief Justice brings up his mixed-race great-niece alongside her white cousin, then has to make an important legal decision affecting the slave trade. You guess what happens.
That doesn’t matter though, this movie is all about the people, the relationships, the clash between law and morality (though in the end that becomes pretty clear cut), and making difficult decisions. The difficulty of going against society’s expectations is beautifully portrayed here. There’s a lot that from a modern viewpoint we would condemn in the relationship between Dido Belle’s adoptive parents and their charge, but the film steers very carefully between Dido’s rightfully central role, and yet maintaining sympathy for her guardians.
The film’s based on very slender facts. The painting that inspired the film (shown below) exists, the central characters did exist, with the family relationships between them that are shown, and Lord Mansfield did rule on the case of the Zong massacre. We know little about their real lives and how they dealt with this situation. The people we see in the film may not be anything like their real-life inspirations. Nonetheless, these are real people we see, with real motivations, real flaws, and real reactions to societal convention. And it’s difficult to believe that, however little we may actually know about Dido and her great-uncle, their relationship wouldn’t affect his views.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw (previously most noted as Martha’s sister Tish in Doctor Who, and Viv Davis in the execrable Bonekickers) does a great job as the lead. Although the “historic decision” part of the plot ultimately lies with her great-uncle (played by Tom Wilkinson), there’s plenty for Gugu to do. She makes some difficult decisions herself in the course of the film, and does it believably and inspiringly.This could very well be a break-through role for her. It would be well-deserved if so.