A United Kingdom, releasing Friday from Fox Searchlight, is a beautifully shot historical drama about the Prince of Beuchuanaland, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), who falls in love with Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) while studying in London. The couple’s love faces strong opposition, not only from friends and family but also from governments and empires who seek to force the dissolution of their marriage.
Oyelowo, who also served as a producer, capably captures the anguish of the young prince and together with Pike, the two actors are captivating in their respective roles. It is the latest starring vehicle for Oyelowo, whose impressive film resume includes Selma, Captive, Queen of Katwe, Interstellar, Jack Reacher, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and The Butler. In this exclusive interview for Reel Faith, he explains his selection of starring roles as well as how his Christian faith informs his career. At the end of the article, listen to a podcast of the interview.
The film is full of beautiful shots. It’s so gorgeous. We saw a screener but I imagine it’s an amazing cinematic experience.
We had a wonderful cinematographer but in Botswana you just have to point the camera. There’s beauty everywhere.
Some of the roles that you’ve done, they have great meaning to them. These films have a message, whether it’s Queen of Katwe, Selma, or A United Kingdom. Several are feel good movies. Is that something that you’re looking for or is that the way the roles have come?
Inevitably, they are projects I’ve been drawn to which I’m sure is linked to who I am as a person and what I believe in, what it is I want to put out into the world. It’s for a myriad of reasons but primarily speaking there are definitely leave projects and characters that I am drawn to because of what I believe in.
It’s not a secret that you’re a Christian, a believer. How does that play into what you choose?
I think that I want to be the person is not just a talker, but a doer. As a Christian, I want my life to reflect what I believe, but also as a father I want what I say to chime with what I actually do. Some of the films—not all of the films, I do try to do some films that are pure entertainment—some of the films certainly that you’ve mentioned are very much in line with what I believe in. So when you look at A United Kingdom, the overlap for me with my faith is seeing the sacrificial love in action. Jesus is, to my mind, the best example of sacrificial love in relation to what He did on the cross for humanity. What do you see between this man and woman is a love that isn’t built on lust. It isn’t built on self-service. These two people really, really care about each other and want to be with each other and are highly invested in the other person’s well-being and happiness. In my mind that is a very lovely version of love and one that goes on to triumph in the context of this particular story.
One of the things that I took away from it is that in society we are cautioned to choose your battles. And sometimes we just give up the fight too easily. But this man was determined and he was fighting for love. For me, the question is what is that that is so sacred to you that you were not going to reason it out and give up?
The thing that I find that’s so wonderful, not just about Seretse and Ruth, yes Seretse say was prepared to fight for what he believed in and for who he loved, but he would never have been able to do it without Ruth’s strength and her love for him. Like the Bible says, “One will put a thousand to flight and two will put ten thousand to flight.” I think it’s seeing the combination of these two people, how two people from entirely different countries and entirely different racial backgrounds, how they come together and are able to come against massive political establishments, two different continents, three different cultures, and go on to win over several years and through many obstacles about their love. The combination of their love for each other is what is what enables them to overcome. So it wasn’t about one person triumphing it was about two people triumphing through their unity.
You and Rosamond same to bring so much to that those rolls. I know they could’ve gotten other people, but there is a depth that comes with your performances. It’s very engaging. Can you talk about working with her?
Yeah, and thank you for saying so. That’s one of those things you just can’t plan ahead. I think everyone knows now how phenomenal of an actress Rosamond is, especially anyone who saw her in Gone Girl but myriad of other roles she’s played before. And I had worked with her on a film we did together called Jack Reacher. We got along together, never knowing that there would be any chemistry between us that would ring as true on the screen. But I think the reason why as you say you can fill a real commitment in terms of what we portray on screen is because both she and I share a deep admiration for these people, we share a very deep feeling of responsibility to have the love they shared given the purest and best platform as a display, because we both admire and value it so much. I could never bank as a producer of the film that I would find an actress who was so committed to these two people as I was but that was a divine blessing to reach out to Rosamond and feel her passion for them, which was very akin to mine.
What did you do to prepare for the role?
The book is based on a film called Colour Bar by Susan Williams. It goes into quite a lot of detail about what happened, both in the run-up to them getting married and in the aftermath of them getting married. Because it was such an explosive story of the time, there are a ton of these rails and footage of both of them. Seretse went on to become Botswana’s first democratically elected president and there’s footage of him, but we also shot in Botswana where all these events took place and where Seretse say was from. We had family members who have museums there we had the archive right there in Botswana that we had access to. When you also have situations like we had of being able to shoot in the very house that they lived in, and Rosamund in the film gives birth in the very hospital that one of their children was given birth to, I think all of that gives another layer of authenticity as well.
Listen below for our exclusive interview with David Oyelowo, including additional commentary.