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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > May 2017 > Reel Story: Belle

Reel Story: Belle

The enigmatic Dido Belle – a biracial gentlewoman – inspired this fascinating period drama, reveals Alice Barnes-Brown

The year is 1769, and a black servant is dressing a young mixed-race girl. Words on the screen inform the viewer of Britain’s morally dubious colonial and slave-trading past. Then, the camera cuts to a distressed-looking white man, stomping through the slums. He is revealed to be a naval officer, and the young girl’s father. Upon seeing her for the first time, he is overcome with emotion. “How lovely she is – so much like her mother,” says he, hinting at both her beauty and her race.

He whisks her away to Kenwood House, to a life she was apparently “born to”. He entrusts her to his uncle, the Earl of Mansfield/Lord Chief Justice William Murray (played by Tom Wilkinson) and his wife, Elizabeth. Though he had neglected to mention that his child was black, the shocked Mansfields adopt her anyway, nicknaming her Dido. She flourishes into a fine young lady, brought brilliantly to life by the award-winning Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

“One does not make a wife of the the rare and exotic, Oliver”

Dido stands with her cousin Elizabeth, played by Sarah Gadon. The two are great companions, but during a heated argument, Elizabeth screams that Dido is “beneath” everyone because of her race RIGHT: The much-discussed painting of Dido Belle and Elizabeth Murray is one of Scone Palace’s highlights
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About History Revealed

When news broke a couple of years back that the body of Richard III had been discovered under a car park in Leicester, hope sprang afresh that the truth about this most divisive of kings would finally be put to rest. But while the find offered many clues, we have much fact yet to separate from fiction. Who was the real Richard? Was he a murderous usurper, or has his reputation been tarnished in a classic case of the victors writing history? We get to the heart of the matter from page 30.