With a plot that feels like it comes from a Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte novel and first-rate production values, the British period drama Belle takes the genre deeper by infusing everything with a timely political topic. And what makes it stand out even more is that the events it recounts are true.


Screenwriter Misan Sagay (whose most recent project was the 1920s TV drama Their Eyes Were Watching God, starring Halle Berry) has taken some artistic liberties with the facts, spicing up the romantic plotlines, ramping up the political tension and weaving various story strands together. So even though the narrative feels as fanciful as an episode of Downton Abbey, the story is essentially true.

More: Tom Wilkinson's 'Belle' is probably the best movie out this week

Dido Elizabeth Belle was born in 1761, the daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay and an African slave. Lindsay recognised her as his daughter and sent her to live with his uncle, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, at Kenwood House just outside of London, where she was raised as a gentlewoman alongside her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray. During this time, Lord Mansfield made a significant 1772 legal judgment against the slave trade, a first milestone in the drive to the abolition of slavery. In 1793, Dido married the Frenchman John Davenier and had three sons. She died in 1804.

More: read our full review of 'Belle'