“The legacy of Sir Seretse Khama lives on in his country, which continues to be a shining beacon of light and inspiration.”
– Nelson Mandela, 2000
A UNITED KINGDOM is based on extraordinary true events. Directed by Amma Asante (Belle, A Way of Life), it is written for the screen by Guy Hibbert (Eye in the Sky, Five Minutes of Heaven) who adapted it from Susan Williams’s book Colour Bar. It stars David Oyelowo (Selma, Jack Reacher), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, Jack Reacher), Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Talented Mr. Ripley) and Terry Pheto (Tsotsi, Mandela) and Tom Felton (Harry Potter).
In 1947, Seretse Khama, the King of Botswana, met Ruth Williams, a London office worker. The attraction was immediate: she was captivated by his vision for a better world, he was struck by her willingness to embrace it. Both felt liberated by the social upheaval that followed the war – Seretse sensed the opportunity for change as the Empire weakened, Ruth saw the possibility for a “bigger life” as women pushed for independence and equality.
They were a perfect match, yet their proposed marriage was challenged not only by their families but by the British and South African governments. The latter had recently introduced the policy of apartheid and found the notion of a biracial couple ruling a neighbouring country intolerable. South Africa threatened the British: either thwart the couple or be denied access to South African uranium (vital for the British nuclear program) and gold (vital to replenish reserves following the war) and face the risk of South Africa invading Botswana.
Despite the terrible pressures they faced, Seretse and Ruth never wavered – they fought for their love every step of the way, and in so doing changed their nation and inspired the world.
The idea for A UNITED KINGDOM first came into being in 2010, when actor David Oyelowo was working on the film 96 Minutes. Its producers, Justin Moore-Lewy and Charlie Mason, had bought the rights to Susan Williams’ s book Colour Bar, which detailed the remarkable story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams.
“I remember very clearly Justin approaching me on set with the book, and handing it to me,” says Oyelowo. “I was so arrested by the image of the cover photo of Seretse and Ruth, looking very glamorous and happy. I knew nothing of them. I had no idea he was an African prince.
“But I read the book and was just intoxicated by the power their love had over political establishments. Their love was such a potent thing. It wasn’t like Ruth had grown up in some political family and always had this conviction about racism. So it was very clear to me that their love was very pure and diamond-like; it was able to cut through all this prejudice they faced, having got married.