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Reel Story: Belle

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”

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

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.

Other Articles in this Issue

Editor’s Letter
When news broke a couple of years back that the
Children sit on the fence and watch rehearsals for the
Weird and wonderful, it all happened in May
On 7 May 1915, a German submarine struck the passenger liner RMS Lusitania, killing almost 1,200
The climb to the top of the world
The young Catholic monarch marries the Earl of Bothwell, a tempestuous match that leads to her downfall
As one of the last speakers of a Tasmanian (Palawa) language, Truganini has an important and unique place in history
Julian Humphrys looks at the life and changing reputation of England's most controversial king
William Marshal’s victory prevented a foreign prince from ruling England, but Lincoln’s citizens had little cause for celebration. Julian Humphrys explains
In the summer of ’69, three American astronauts travelled to the Moon on an adventure with virtually no margin of error allowed, explains Pat Kinsella
It’s hard to shake off the memory of someone when their tombs are as elaborate, or disturbing, as these
In the early 18th century, one small, salty, sun-splashed corner of the Bahamas was the epicentre of an organised crime wave that washed across the islands of the Caribbean and along America’s Atlantic coast. Pat Kinsella tells its tale
Robert Capa, regarded as the greatest war photographer in the world, captured many of World War II’s defining images
The enigmatic Dido Belle – a biracial gentlewoman – inspired this fascinating period drama, reveals Alice Barnes-Brown
Against a backdrop of incredible personal tragedy, three modest, Victorian women from Yorkshire would forever change the face of English literature. Mel Sherwood reveals the unfortunate and unlikely tale of the world’s greatest literary sisters…
Social historian, genealogist and author of Mr Darcy’s Guide to
The mysterious Maya – a great civilisation that disappeared without a trace
See how the Vatican’s most famous landmark, which plays host to thousands of people every day, was built
What’s caught our attention this month…
At the heart of the museum district is Britain’s best resource on the natural world, spanning billions of years of history
This month’s best historical books
Get in touch – share your opinions on history and our magazine
Welcome to our reader survey. This is your chance to
Muhammad Ali taunts his arch-rival Joe Frazier at his gym