As Adam Chitwood’s review of A United Kingdom points out, the movie is nice. It’s pleasant. It has two splendid leads in David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. But whereas Adam saw that movie at TIFF in September 2016, it is being released now. And that “nice” story is now a very comforting one. It’s the type of true story where true love defeats a divisive government in which officials play people and races like they’re pawns on a chessboard, and because there’s a true triumph here, A United Kingdom becomes medicinal entertainment for our current global state of affairs. Whatever aisle you find yourself on, I think we can all agree that division is what many global leaders want right now. And in A United Kingdom that division is fought with a tool that we all want to have or maintain: love. That sounds cheesy, but love leads the way in Ruth and Seretse’s story and as embodied by Pike and Oyelowo, it’s a hopeful story to follow and embrace this February 2017, particularly for Valentine’s Day.
In 1947, Seretse (Oyelowo) is an African immigrant studying in London. He meets Ruth (Pike) at an academic dance merely weeks before needing to return to Beuchuanaland (now Botswana). They are instantly smitten and share records and dances with each other. When he confesses that he has to leave soon to assume his birthright ascension to the thrown, he knows he doesn’t want to leave Ruth behind, so in a whirlwind of emotion, they marry. But the British government, which runs Beuchuanaland as a colony, cannot allow their union to flourish because they are planting the seeds of enforcing Apartheid—the governmental separation of land, streets, marriage, all walks of life etc. on the basis of color—in South Africa, which borders Beuchuanaland. The tiny country of 122,000 people is thrust into a divisive spotlight and Seretse and Ruth valiantly fight back against both the British government and Seretse’s uncle, who does not approve of their marriage for ruling purposes.
Recently, I sat down with both Pike and Oyelowo to discuss the film and various politics therein. There is a video interview above, but I also got to speak to them longer for a one-on-one print interview, which follows below. With Pike, since this was her first role since 2014’s Gone Girl, we talked a little bit about the types of roles that she’s being offered now after her Oscar nomination for a playing a complicated “psycho bitch.” We also discussed whether she’d like to produce in the future, like her co-star Oyelowo and she teased some pretty intense dramas in Entebbe and Hostiles that will come later down the, err, pike.
COLLIDER: So we talked a little bit yesterday.
ROSAMUND PIKE: Yes.
And you told me that David presented this story as the most romantic story of the 20th Century.
PIKE: Good hook.
How did their story connect with you?
PIKE: I still don’t really know how it connected with me so deeply, I had a very, very profound reaction to it. I just leapt to the story, I felt that people leaving the cinema having seen this would be buoyed up by hope. It really spoke to me, the time frame, the fact that it was following so close on the heels of the second World War. I felt these were two people who were beacons of hope for a new generation in a world trying to put itself back together after being war-torn for so long. I thought Ruth was really sort of the vanguard of women who found the opportunities to work in new fields and who felt that there were roles that had been previously only open to men that were now available to win. And I think she knew that life could hold something exciting and bigger than she had ever dreamed of. And all that, those new female voices that started to come out in the late 40s, they really spoke to me.
You said hope. I know that this film premiered at TIFF, but there is something, I think, extra beneficial of being released now stateside, where many of us are looking for something that’s hopeful, especially about a division, and there’s triumph involved.
And many of the great romances don’t end well, and this one does, in a way that benefits so many other people as well.
PIKE: And their legacy continues. For me, it’s always been first and foremost a love story, which has a political element. But it’s politics brokered by love. I think it’s like, politics come by in the most honest way. They are trying to do something very simple and very small, which is be together, and in the process end up fighting bigger giants, and overcoming huge obstacles, and bringing people together.
I want to ask a little bit about the courtship, simply because I love watching swing dancing.
PIKE: Do you swing dance? Did you ever try it?
No, my girlfriend knows how. We’ve been talking about doing classes to catch me up to speed, but we haven’t settled that yet, we dance and I’m all limbs flailing about, but to rhythm. I love to dance.
PIKE: You’d love it! It’s the best, it’s the best.
Was this your first time?
PIKE: No, I’ve been, rather like you, curious about it. I know it’s the most exhilarating, kind of just joyous dance. This is the time I’ve been taught properly, you know, doing it. And David’s a great dancer, and we’d just take every opportunity, on the sidelines of set, we’d just be dancing. While we were waiting to shoot, we’d be practicing, and I just loved it.
Yeah, one thing I really liked about the courtship was, even though it’s a different era and things are done very differently, there are still elements that are identifiable throughout time. Just the fact that they’re sharing records with each other is, you know, that’s how I—that’s my go-to.
PIKE: The records, yeah. I know, and sort of the excitement of getting a parcel, and the thought that goes into it, and the relevance.
And also listening to it by yourself, not being in the same room, and feeling that connection of—it’s being presented to you, but you get to have your own response.
PIKE: Yes. Yeah, yeah, it’s true, that. It’s such a lovely gift, a little window, a private window. Or it’s a warning. [laughs]
Did you get to work with the Khama children?
PIKE: I mean, we did meet them when we were in Botswana, but, you know, we were dealing—in some ways we delve deeper into their parents’ young lives than they ever did, as you know. There were plenty of details about the story that they wouldn’t have known, because you don’t know about those parts of your parents’ lives unless you do copious research into them. So, I mean, we knew the story. We didn’t really ask them for insight, because we weren’t doing that phase of their lives.
How long did you shoot in Botswana and how did it differ from other experiences? I know the infrastructure for filming isn’t as pronounced as many other areas, even in Africa.
PIKE: No, I mean, it was an incredible experience. There were some, at one point it was looking like we might shoot in South Africa. Which, you know, in light of the story would’ve been insane due to South Africa creating more problems than good across the border. Obviously Botswana does not have the infrastructure for filmmaking crews that South Africa has, and there were certain teething problems with shooting. But there was a great amount of goodwill and generosity of spirit and, you know, there were a lot of young and eager crew members from South Africa who were really vested in shooting in the African nations, and have made the effort to learn local languages and dialects, and are really helping film grow in those countries. You know, we needed people who spoke in the local dialects. Actually, the actress playing Naledi, Terry Pheto, she speaks Setswana, which is why she was able to translate for me in that extraordinary scene where the ladies start to sing at my doorstep. Which was not a moment asked for in the script, it was a complete surprise for the whole crew and us. We came out of the house, and they were just coming in to lay down gifts, and they erupted into song, and it was the most sort of arresting, stunning, like, soul gift. It was extraordinary. And because Terry speaks Setswana, she was able to say to me—when I said, “Oh, they’re singing about you,” because I heard the word Naledi. Naledi, Naledi, in the song—but she said, “No, no, no, they’re not singing about Naledi, Naledi means morning star. And they’re saying Seretse’s wife is bright like the morning star.” And I, I mean, I was just in pieces. It was so moving.
That’s amazing. So the shot that’s in the film, that was made on the fly?
PIKE: Yeah! There’s maybe one take that caught their impromptu song, but then we asked them to repeat it, obviously. It was astonishing. It was a gift. And Botswana just gave so much color and texture to the film, everything about it. The house we filmed in, the traditional houses, the the landscape, the redness of the earth, the light, the drought, the aridity, it provided so much extra texture to shoot there and I’m so grateful we were able to work that out within the budget.
For being a very strong romance, you and David do spend a lot of time apart. So how did you work about trying to keep that feeling of love, or how did (director) Amma (Asante) kind of work with you to convey that they’re still together even though they are not?
PIKE: Through the whole movie, even when politics are being discussed, it’s always as it relates to the love story. And that was one of Amma’s very masterful things, I think, that she only wanted to deal with politics as it related to the couple. So even when Seretse’s uncle is discussing the problem of encroaching Apartheid, he still says, if I let this African chief share a bed with his white wife—it’s still talking about the relationship. They’re talking about, you know, the couple in bed, right? In the scenes where Ruth and Seretse were apart, I never felt disconnected from David because the connection we had was so strong. I felt he was in the walls of the house, I felt he was present. I had time with the baby, so the baby has him in it. And whenever we were doing phone calls, we were always there for each other, doing the off-lines. That’s very important to me.
This is a film that David produced, and I think he’s produced about six or so now. Is that something that you have an interest in doing in the future?
PIKE: An interest, yes, whether it’ll happen remains to be seen. I mean, I’m an actress, and that’s sort of my main focus, that’s what I love and I’m happy to be a gun for hire. But I don’t live in LA, so producing would be harder. But if I do, I think it’s more interesting, though, to produce things not for me to be in. I’d rather produce things that don’t have a part for me.