A double portrait painted in 1779 shows two aristocratic young Englishwomen, one dark- and one fair-skinned, in a companionable pose that suggests equality and affection. From that source, and the few discoverable facts about its mulatto subject, writer Misan Sagay and director Amma Assante have built an intriguing story about Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). She was the illegitimate daughter of British naval officer Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode) and a slave, raised by Lindsay’s aristocratic great-uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) with most (but decidedly not all) of the privileges due her father’s rank. The historical Lord Mansfield ruled on several important cases involving slavery, one of which figures centrally in the plot. The smartness and intricacy of this movie are unfortunately undercut by an occasional reliance on convention. The cast is excellent, and the luminous Mbatha-Raw is a real discovery. Rated PG. 104 minutes. Regal DeVargas, Santa Fe. See review.
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