Gugu Mbatha-Raw: Former “Undercovers” Star Is “Belle” Of The Ball

It’s an enchanting love story inspired by the real life of a biracial woman named Dido Elizabeth Belle, who lived during the British slave trade era and was a woman of prestige.

Directed by Amma Asante from a screenplay by Misan Sagay, this story came about because Sagay discovered a 1779 painting of two young women—a Black one, Belle, and a white one, Lady Elizabeth Murray—and they are raised together in the space, which was clearly unusual for the time.

Sagay explored this story by researching it for years and was captivated by the connection between Belle and Lord Mansfield and how she may have impacted the end of the British slave trade.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as “Belle”

While the end of British slavery and the era for a savage marriage marketplace sounds like heavy material, Sagay’s screenplay and Asante’s directing capture a delightfully engaging and beautifully shot historic love epic.

“Belle” stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who delivers a breakout role in Fox Searchlight film.

The Oxford, England-bred thespian believes the romantic tail that threads this film along is the beauty that makes this historic tale not feel heavy.

“The romance of the story is really what kind of got me into it,” she told, during an interview at The Palace Hotel in New York City. “I think that’s what really made it accessible. Even though we’re dealing with these weighty-issues of race, identity, class and gender; for me a romantic story is at the heart of it.”

This movie is a departure from “12 Years a Slave,” “Django Unchained” and other slave stories, as it deals with social situation that derived from slavery and as Mbatha-Raw puts it, “the high society of it all.”

“The social context at the time, that’s what heightens everything in terms of this sort of political awakening that goes on alongside this romantic awakening,” she explained.

To prepare for this role, Mbatha-Raw and her cast members had to take an etiquette class, much of which the actress hasn’t retained.

“It’s so funny because it’s all about status. That was the most fascinating thing to me is how status is expressed and respect and class. Who is the most powerful person in the room is how deep you do your bow, curtsey,” she said, before adding: “One thing that I did learn is when you eat soup is what way to do the spoon.”

TV watchers may remember Mbatha-Raw from her co-starring role alongside Boris Kodjoe on the short-lived NBC drama “The Undercovers.” Despite the J.J. Abrams-produced series was canceled after 13 episodes.

“That was sort of my first job in America so it was very much a Baptism of fire. I had no idea about the journey of a television show here and a TV series here. For me, it was the perfect amount of time because I learned so much,” Mbatha-Raw expressed. “Doing that show for six months and doing an American accent day in and day out; as well as learning to do action, fighting … it was really like TV boot camp. It helped me being comfortable in front of the camera so I could take on roles like ‘Belle.’ If I was still doing that show I would not have been able to do ‘Belle.'”

“Belle,” which won the “People’s Choice Award” at the Toronto International Film Festival, hits theaters on May 2.

Scene from “Belle”

VIDEO: Watch the official trailer for “Belle.”

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