Metascore
64

Generally favorable reviews - based on 35 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 22 out of 35
  2. Negative: 0 out of 35
  1. 100
    Beautifully cast, touchingly played and handsomely mounted, Belle is as close to perfect as any costumed romance has a right to be.
  2. Reviewed by: Kimber Myers
    May 19, 2014
    83
    Amma Asante’s Belle has every element that costume drama fans love, but it elevates a standard love story by adding larger historical implications and giving us a new perspective on the era.
  3. Reviewed by: Chris Nashawaty
    Apr 30, 2014
    83
    Like "Downton Abbey" but with corsets, culottes, and tricorn hats, Belle subtly skewers the absurd rules and hypocrisies of class. But the real takeaway is Mbatha-Raw. She makes a case for why she ought to be a star.
  4. Reviewed by: David Denby
    May 12, 2014
    80
    The movie is a moralized historical fantasy, mixing love and politics in Old Hollywood style. Yet I can’t bring myself to be indignant about its inventions. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who was born in Oxford and has acted since she was a child, speaks her lines with tremulous emotion and, finally, radiant authority. Austen, I think, would have been thrilled.
  5. Reviewed by: Bill Goodykoontz
    May 8, 2014
    80
    Belle is a beautiful period piece, but it's also something more: a study of racism, classism and sexism in 18th-century England.
  6. 80
    Belle does have a clear moral compass, but it refuses easy answers and withholds easy judgments. As such, it feels profoundly human.
  7. Reviewed by: Inkoo Kang
    May 2, 2014
    80
    Belle's extraordinary intelligence is most evident in its slow but satisfying disentanglement of the jumble of privileges and disadvantages that the wealthy, aristocratic, and learned — but also female, half-black, and pitifully sheltered — Dido embodies.
  8. Reviewed by: Graham Fuller
    May 1, 2014
    80
    The serious tone of director Amma Asante’s film goes far in undercutting any gloss. It looks more like a murky Rembrandt than an episode of “Downton Abbey.”
  9. Reviewed by: Joe Williams
    May 15, 2014
    75
    With stately surroundings and hissable villains, director Amma Assante imbues the finale with such dramatic resonance that Belle becomes a ringing proclamation of human dignity.
  10. Reviewed by: Steven Rea
    May 9, 2014
    75
    Belle, with its country manors and its city slums, its snooty nobles and its fiery idealists, its ballroom dances and barroom conspiracies, brings these themes to a dramatic head: romance and race, privilege and justice.
  11. Reviewed by: Mick LaSalle
    May 8, 2014
    75
    Belle isn't a perfect movie; in some ways it's obvious. But even if it's not true to history, it's true to that painting and worthy of its inspiration.
  12. Reviewed by: Stephanie Merry
    May 8, 2014
    75
    The movie packs a lot in, and the quick pace of early scenes can feel like running on a treadmill, but Belle settles into a nice rhythm. It ends up having all the requisites of a period drama — a strings-heavy soundtrack, lavish costumes and passionate declarations of love — plus a good deal more.
  13. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    May 1, 2014
    75
    The layered film's blend of Austen-style romance, courtroom drama and historical look at the British slave trade works surprisingly well, though there are moments — especially involving the conniving suitors — that teeter on melodrama.
  14. Reviewed by: Rex Reed
    Apr 30, 2014
    75
    Elegant and understated, Belle is a true story about the effects of slavery on 18th-century England, told in the style of a sweeping romantic saga by Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters.
  15. Reviewed by: Manohla Dargis
    May 1, 2014
    70
    The weave of the personal and the political finally proves as irresistible as it is moving, partly because it has been drawn from extraordinary life.
  16. Reviewed by: Justin Chang
    Oct 16, 2013
    70
    That the film still works as well as it does is due to not only its polished craftsmanship and disarming comedy-of-manners approach, but also its fascinating insights into the conflicted mindset of British society
  17. Reviewed by: Kimberley Jones
    May 21, 2014
    67
    The material is interesting, and the production values are top-notch. Anushia Nieradzik deserves special notice for her costume design; her luxurious dresses in deep shades of purple and magenta race the pulse more than anything particular in the plot or characterization. It’s all quite well done, if only a touch too decorous.
  18. Reviewed by: Jeff Baker
    May 17, 2014
    67
    What's best about Belle is the performance of Ebatha-Raw.
  19. Reviewed by: Connie Ogle
    May 15, 2014
    63
    It still feels a little like a lesson you’re supposed to learn before you can enjoy anything truly satisfying.
  20. Reviewed by: Geoff Pevere
    May 9, 2014
    63
    Needless to say, Belle is a handsome piece of selectively reupholstered history, but its lesson on the victories of social progress in England seems almost as narrowly perceived as Dido’s own view of the world from the immaculately trimmed Mansfield lawns.
  21. Reviewed by: Bruce Ingram
    May 8, 2014
    63
    When Asante finally closes with a close-up of Belle’s portrait, there’s something in her eyes and her smile that suggests so much more.
  22. Reviewed by: Glenn Kenny
    May 2, 2014
    63
    The movie is intelligently written and well-acted, but it doesn’t sit all that comfortably between the two stools of Austenesque Romance and Socially Conscious Drama.
  23. Reviewed by: Dave Calhoun
    Jun 10, 2014
    60
    Sometimes you find yourself wishing for an alternative version of the film unfolding before your eyes. ‘Belle’ is a good-looking and exceedingly polite film where perhaps a more complex one with less good manners would have been better.
  24. Reviewed by: John DeFore
    Jun 10, 2014
    60
    Though the inventions of Misan Sagay's script emphasize concerns over dowries and social rank that will be grating for many contemporary viewers, extracting little of the humor that Austen regularly found in such hang-ups, the picture's sour notes are balanced by fine performances and clear historical appeal.
  25. Reviewed by: Angie Errigo
    Jun 9, 2014
    60
    If not a star-making turn, Mbatha-Raw's tough, tender performances should give her plenty of opportunities in sharper fare.
  26. Reviewed by: Mike Scott
    May 23, 2014
    60
    Still, it's all enjoyable enough, playing out like a cross between "Pride and Prejudice" and "Amistad" -- and a welcome change of pace for those trying to avoid the radioactive spiders and time-traveling mutants that have otherwise invaded the summer movie season.
  27. Reviewed by: Betsy Sharkey
    May 1, 2014
    60
    Belle is greatly buoyed by Mbatha-Raw's performance. She infuses Dido with a confident and intelligent grace that keeps you engaged long after the tangled story has let both the actress and audience down.
  28. Reviewed by: Nathan Rabin
    May 1, 2014
    60
    As a period production, Belle is gorgeous, dazzling spectacle, replete with ornate costumes, lovely sets, and in Mbatha-Raw, a striking, charismatic lead. But the film never finds a way to invest its narrative with a sense of urgency.
  29. Reviewed by: Henry Barnes
    Oct 16, 2013
    60
    Amma Asante's second feature tells Dido's extraordinary story in handsome, if formulaic, style.
  30. Reviewed by: Ignatiy Vishnevetsky
    May 10, 2014
    50
    This effectively turns a story about race into a story about rank.
  31. Reviewed by: Peter Keough
    May 8, 2014
    50
    Belle has the pace and sumptuous cinematography of a Merchant and Ivory production, but none of their memorable characters, subtle performances, or literate dialogue.
  32. Reviewed by: Lou Lumenick
    Apr 30, 2014
    50
    If you were wondering what “12 Years a Slave” might have been like as a two-part episode of “Masterpiece Theatre,” you might want to check out this unsatisfying but not uninteresting oddity. It renders another historical story about race with exquisite taste but not much in the way of passion.
  33. Reviewed by: Tomas Hachard
    Apr 27, 2014
    50
    The film is concerned largely with intellectual horrors and portrays the fight against slavery rather neatly as a growing feeling of internal guilt that slowly turns society toward the light.
  34. Reviewed by: Stephanie Zacharek
    Apr 29, 2014
    40
    There's a great story here, but Asante — who has made one previous feature, the 2004 drama A Way of Life — can't quite harness its power.
  35. Reviewed by: Joshua Rothkopf
    Apr 29, 2014
    40
    Closer to a special episode of "Diff’rent Strokes" than to "12 Years a Slave," the movie seems to exist to give its white characters belated moments of conscience.
User Score
8.0

Generally favorable reviews- based on 19 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 7 out of 7
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 7
  3. Negative: 0 out of 7
  1. May 16, 2014
    9
    This being the 20th Friday of 2014 it means I have seen a minimum of 20 new movies and “Belle” without a doubt is, so far, the best movie of the year. It combines a beautiful love story with a realistic look at the society of that time plus a law suit that could change history. “Belle” is based on a true story.

    There are 3 main story lines in the film, each of equal importance, so to say one is the main story is misleading. The first introduced story is that of an illegitimate daughter, Dido Elizabeth Belle, (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) of a white British naval officer, (Mathew Goode) and a Negro woman who dies when Dido is still a child. The father, Sir John Lindsay, acknowledges the child as his and brings her to his uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and aunt Lady Mansfield (Emily Watson) who are already raising another niece Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon). Dido and Elizabeth are treated as equals by their uncle and aunt but not by society.

    We see that Dido will have a substantial dowry from her father and Elizabeth will have none, it is the latter who gets many privileges while the latter, strictly because of being a mulatto, cannot enjoy a dinner with guests but can join the company and that is just a minor consequence of society of that time---the 18th century.

    Another story line involves Lord Mansfield, as the Chief Justice of England and Wales, having to rule in the Zong massacre case that could change the course of slavery and bringing it to an end or continue what the British Empire has always done and is accepted as the right of the privileged.

    The third story line is of the love affair between a vicar’s son, John Davinier (Sam Reid) studying the law and Dido.

    Okay, full disclosure--I am a cry baby and couldn’t stop crying the last 30 minutes of the film!

    Like most British films every part is cast perfectly from Miranda Richardson who will forget color when it comes to ensuring her sons (Tom Felton and James Norton) future to Penelope Wilton as the ‘old maid’ aunt who is a governess to the girls.

    While Sam Reid shines as one of many of Dido’s suitors it is Gugu Mbatha-Raw who is definitely the breakout star and there is no justice if she doesn’t win many awards for this film. Aside from beauty, eyes that reflect everything she is feeling and the absolutely mesmerizing way she holds herself she will not fail to touch you.

    Only the basic facts of Dido’s life are known--be sure to stay for the credits and what happened to the people involved--the director Amma Asante who wrote the script based on a screenplay by Misan Sagay makes an almost perfect picture.

    THIS IS A MUST SEE MOVIE AND YOU MUST SEE GUGU MBATHA-RAW!
    Full Review »
  2. May 12, 2014
    9
    This film is both entertaining and informative. The settings are gorgeous and the acting first rate. The story (true history)flows smoothly and is easy to follow. Full Review »
  3. Jun 5, 2014
    10
    A totally absorbing fact based story about a young black woman adopted into an upper class British family. The leading actress has to play against some of the leading actors of British film, and she more than holds her own with an exquisitely modulated and deeply felt performance. The film looks wonderful and avoids both sentimentality and high minded preachiness. I am not surprised so many viewers love it. Full Review »