By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com July 1, 2013 at 3:25PM
Though it went mostly underseen in the U.S. , Amma Asante's 2004 film "A Way Of Life" was one of the best debut films by a British director in the last decade. A tough, powerful Wales-set drama with a brace of deeply moving performances, it won Asante the BAFTA Carl Foreman award for best debut by a British filmmaker as well as top prizes from the London and Miami Film Festivals, and marked the writer-director as a serious talent to watch.
It's taken a little while, but Asante is back with a new film, "Belle," and it looks set to reach a much larger audience than its predecessor, as Fox Searchlight have announced that they've picked up theatrical rights in the U.S., the U.K. and much of the rest of the world. The film's based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the mixed-race illegitimate daughter of an admiral in the 18th century, raised in an aristocratic background by her great-uncle Lord Mansfield, but simultaneously left a pariah because of the color of her skin. But her romance with a vicar's son helps her to become something of an instigator in bringing down slavery in Britain.
Asante's assembled an ace cast, including Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon, Tom Felton, Matthew Goode, Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton, Sam Reid and James Northcote, with the title role taken by "Undercovers" and "Larry Crowne" star Gugu Mbatha-Raw, in what we hear is a star-making performance. The studio say that, "Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a revelation as Belle, she gives a brave and powerful performance joined by an outstanding ensemble cast and we look forward to introducing her to film audiences everywhere. We were entranced by this inspiring story of love and perseverance during a time of significant social and legal changes,” while Asante comments: "The experience and sensibilities of the team at Fox Searchlight make it a wonderful match for 'Belle.' I am so pleased their passion for this film means it now has the ability to be seen by audiences worldwide. We've worked hard to turn historical facts of the life of a true pioneer into a compelling and moving cinema experience.”
The studio are currently eying a spring 2014 release for the picture -- presumably in a similar slot to the one that proved so successful for "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" a few years back -- but we wouldn't be surprised at all to see it somewhere on the fall festival circuit. Given the quality of Asante's previous picture, we're definitely going to be keeping a keen eye on it from here on out.