I have mixed feelings about period movies and shows. I like many of them. But I'm also cautious about them. I used to, like many people, like them just because I liked to see historical times. I liked the clothing, the settings, the habits, all of that--so just seeing it all was enough to add interest to a movie. But it isn't anymore. I still like a good historical setting, but I need the movie to stand on its own now.
Belle stands on its own.
This is one of those films that's had different release dates, so I hadn't even heard of it until I was checking my theatre's schedule. The period is the late eighteenth century. The heroine is the "illegitimate mixed race daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay." She is raised according to her social standing--except where her race comes into conflict. In summary, the film certainly approaches issues we've seen before. Class status, race, social standing, politics, slavery, marriage, inheritance, gender. It approaches these things, but not I think like any other film does.
Belle was a completely refreshing movie, in more than one way. When I watched the trailer, I was thinking about how pretty Gugu Mbatha-Raw looked as Dido (Belle is her last name). Then I realized that we usually only see very pale people in the extravagant, colorfully pastel outfits of the eighteenth century aristocracy. And the dresses look so nice with her rich skin tone.
I also, of course, mean that the movie was refreshing as a whole. It was elegant, pure elegance that has nothing to do with snobbery. The style of the movie, visuals and cinematography and music, was soft and lovely. The characters were real: there were nice people and not so nice people, but not fake-perfect people. Dido is very likeable in her intelligence, beauty, and honesty, but she is not set out to be some angel--and that makes her all the better. There is politics about slavery in the movie, but not like a repeat of Amazing Grace (I did love that movie, but I don't need a duplicate of it). It's more like it comes in the way that it comes into a person's life: from time to time.
That's kind of what this movie felt like to me, a piece of a person's life. The movie places Dido right at that age of entering adulthood, so she is learning about many issues in the world. Her place is not an easy one, yet she handles it gracefully. That grace, in the face of whatever is in the world, is something most admirable. And that is why this movie was so refreshing.