Belle, based on a true story, blends Jane Austen-like romance with a political edge and explores slavery from a unique female perspective. The film follows the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of a royal naval captain and an African slave, who was raised by her great uncle Lord Mansfield, who was also Britain's Chief Justice. Lord Mansfield presided over two of Britain's most important cases relating to slavery and its legality, and it is against this backdrop that the film explores twin themes; of race, class and slavery and of marriage, gender and love.
In this introduction to Belle Madge Dresser gives an historical context to the film and the fascinating and powerful questions it invokes – questions about Dido's status in a noble household, what 1760s England was like and how the notion of human rights conflicted with the notion of private property - both slaves and women still very much being considered property at this time.
In the Q&A that follows the screening Madge Dresser and audience discuss the films closeness to historical reality, the birth of the idea of human rights and the volatility and contrary nature of the times in which slavery was first publicly declared as odious and yet represented a fundamental part of Britain's commercial success.
Dr Madge Dresser is Associate Professor of History at the University of the West of England in Bristol. As well as published works on slavery, she has acted as historical consultant and advisor to slavery exhibitions at the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum and the Bristol Museum Service, the Economic and Social Research Council Legacies of British Slave-ownership project at UCL and numerous slavery websites and public history projects.