"Based on a true story" tale of a half-black English heiress (an unfailingly appealing Gugu Mbatha-Raw) navigating a world in which her mother (here safely dead) could have been treated as property. It's also based on a true painting (of the heiress and her cousin), and it does its visual heritage proud. Belle is an artful, occasionally lively updating of Jane Austen-style "Whom shall I marry and how?" social mores, with questions of race providing some additional shading and texture. It's also a plodding, undramatic account of her guardian's (Tom Wilkinson) adherence to the dictum, "Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall." (He's a judge, and his pending ruling on a slavery-related insurance case could threaten English prosperity, or so we are repeatedly told.) A few fine expressions of genuine humanity, but also plenty of speechmaking for those who prefer the piquancy of moral righteousness over butter and salt on their movie popcorn. (2014) — Matthew Lickona
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