Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars in director Amma Asante's period drama, which is based on the true story of Georgian Britain's first mixed-race aristocrat, Dido Belle.
On Film4: 23 Jan 9:00PM
A smalltown Afrikaner's life spins out of control when he develops an irrepressible attraction to the son of a family friend. Winner of the Queer Palme at Cannes 2011.
On the surface, Francois (Deon Lotz) is a man who has everything he could want in life. A devoted wife. A nice house. His own business. Two grown-up daughters. It's a rather inconvenient truth, then, that he's sexually attracted to men. Not that he admits to being gay. He and the 'friends' he meets up with in a bungalow on the outskirts of town emphatically insist that they are "not faggots" - just a bunch of full-blooded, heterosexual guys who happen to like bumming each other from time to time.
But you can't really blame them for their secrecy. Judging by the homophobic remarks casually thrown away at the dinner table, smalltown South Africa doesn't seem to be the most gay-friendly of places. Especially given that Francois works in that bastion of bird-ogling blokedom, the construction industry. Things really start to get complicated when he develops an irrepressible attraction to Christian (Charlie Keegan), the hot young son of an old friend. Soon, his carefully-constructed double life starts to unravel, with startling consequences.
A sense of 'not belonging' lies at the heart of Beauty. In Francois' case, this manifests itself most obviously in his inability to be open about his sexual urges. But his bungalow buddies' unquestioned "no blacks" rule is stark proof that racial tensions are simmering just beneath the surface. Francois and the rest of his all-Afrikaans social sphere are oddly disconnected from the reality of the country they live in. They drift along in a 'whites only' bubble, rarely openly hostile about their black compatriots, but clearly ambivalent about their current role in society. Even their language seems ill at ease - shifting confusingly from English to Afrikaans, sometimes within the same sentence.
The fundamental problem seems to be that Francois and his contemporaries are caught between the conservativism of the previous generation and the progressivism of the next. Towards the end of the film, Francois can only look on in bewilderment and envy as a young gay couple casually kiss in a cafe. Like the Polaroid colours used to shoot the film's middle-class suburbs, he is a relic from a former age, destined to watch his own desires lived out by an unappreciative youth while all he can do is observe longingly from afar.
Deon Lotz gives a career-making performance in this petty-bourgeois tragedy which boldly shows both the mundanity and brutality that can lurk behind the closed doors of the South African middle classes.
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