Belfast Telegraph

Actress 'felt spirit' of Belle

The star of slavery drama Belle said she felt the spirit of the title character with her before the film's premiere.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral, in the film which is based on a true story set in the 18th century.

It was inspired by a painting of Belle, who was raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield who as Lord Chief Justice helped end slavery in England.

Speaking on the red carpet at London's Southbank, Mbatha-Raw said: "Of course I felt an affinity with Belle. We tried, myself and the director, to make her as much of a living, breathing human being as is possible".

Hours before the premiere the actress had filmed a series of interviews in Kenwood House, north London, which is home to a copy of a painting of Belle with her white cousin.

She said: "It was quite amazing today to walk in and feel Dido's spirit there and just to know we were celebrating her and celebrating the film."

She was joined on the red carpet by co-stars including Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson and Tom Felton.

Mbatha-Raw said the issues raised in the film are still important today, saying: "Even though it is a period drama evidently we are still dealing with race issues, the idea of equality and injustice."

Director Amma Asante said the film had been "a labour of love". She said the idea for the film came when producer Damian Jones sent her a postcard of the painting.

She said: "I could see that this was a story, that if I got it right, it could be a story that combines politics, race, art, history and I was totally inspired by that painting".

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