A United Kingdom
David Oyelowo & Rosamund Pike
Some stories you hear are so extraordinary and significant that you immediately think, “Why hasn’t a movie been made about this?!” When it comes to the forbidden love of King Seretse Khama of Botswana and Ruth Williams, a white woman from London, this is absolutely true. When they decided to marry in the late 1940s, just as apartheid was being introduced into South Africa, their union caused an international uproar. It was a decision that permanently altered the course of African history. Bringing the story to the big screen, both as a producer and the King, David Oyelowo dives headfirst into the decisions made and the needed sacrifices. Oscar-nominated actress Rosamund Pike plays Ruth and Risen sat down with both to learn more about the convictions of this couple and the people of Botswana.
interviewed for Risen Magazine in New York City, New York
Risen Magazine: David, this is such a personal story for you, so many similarities with the royalty bloodline, the countries involved, your marriage – I loved seeing your wife Jessica in the film too – what did this story mean to you?
David Oyelowo: The story meant so much to me which is why I spent quite a bit of time trying to see it come to fruition. Actually not for the obvious reasons, yes Jess and I are in an interracial marriage, but my dad actually is from a royal family. He’s from the Yoruba tribe and he married my mom, who is Ebu and a commoner, and they had to elope to the U.K. to get married because it was frowned upon in Nigera. I grew up with stories of that, it’s on a much smaller scale than what happened with Ruth and Seretse, but yes, it is something I am sort of familiar with.
RM: Ruth has such the emotional journey from love to lonliness, but she is strong. How did becoming her affect you?
Rosamund Pike: It did affect me quite strongly because I felt bolstered by her courage. It was her commitment, her drive, her certainty that really struck me. Once she said yes, she was going to commit to it whatever it took – the rejection of her family, going to a place that was completely unknown, experiencing suspicion and prejudice towards her, she craved to belong in the world of his [Seretse’s] people, but they didn’t want her – and then when Seretse made the very wise decision for him to go back to England and Ruth to stay in Botswana because the British government wanted the exact reverse, she then had to withstand several months of isolation with no real friend or ally.
RM: Seretse lived by conviction and made these powerful decisions in his personal life, but because he was a King his decisions affected a whole country. Talk about how this couple shaped Botswana to what it is today?
DO: The legacy of their love is that you go to Botswana, which shares a border with South Africa, and the attitude towards race is very, very different. It goes to show how the love between these two people changed what modern day Botswana is as a result of the sacrifices they made to be together.
RM: And their son is actually the current President of Botswana.
RP: Yes, for those that may not know the outcome, Seretse led Botswana into independence and their first born son is now the current President of Botswana.
RM: Plus, the two of you actually got to shoot in Botswana, in the real locations with natives as extras. What was this like?
DO: We got to shoot in the first house they lived in.
RP: All the extras that were called in to be “village people,” they were watching the history they knew unfold again before their eyes. Their reactions were spontaneous and real. There is a moment where the women in the village sing to me. That was not in the script, they were not asked to do that, all they were asked to do was bring fruit and vegetables and lay them in our courtyard as gifts. Because it is in their culture of what to do, they started to sing this unbelievably moving gift of a song. It was one of those magic moments when you are filming that you can’t predict and might never happen again.