Loving, the stirring film about a mixed-race couple fighting against 1960s miscegenation laws in Virginia, has a sophisticated cousin from across the pond: A United Kingdom, the latest work by British director Amma Asanta. The film, which arrives stateside in February, follows the true story of the first Botswanan president, Seretse Khama, and his English wife, Ruth Williams. The mixed-race couple, played by David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, made headlines when they married in 1948.
“To me, I always think that we know that times are changing when there’s more than one of this kind of film,” Asante told Vanity Fair during a recent phone call.
When we can get to the point where non-white or interracial stories don’t give audiences pause, Asante continued, then “we can concentrate on the story, and not simply the fact that there’s people of different colors. Now, I think we’re moving somewhere positive.”
In the meantime, the director is moving the needle by telling these untold stories with a lot of texture. A first glance at these exclusive stills proves that, even if you don’t know precisely what story they’re telling: “One of the things that attracted me to the couple as a director—apart from the extraordinary story, obviously—was they had this fashion sense,” Asante said. “They were obviously this mixed couple, a biracial couple, I hadn’t quite seen that coordination, with a mixed couple to be in London completely following fashion.”
As she first approached the film, Asante had an image in her mind of how the characters might dress that came courtesy of her Ghanaian parents. Bright colors and big prints were typical in the West African country—but they’re not so typical in Botswana, where much of A United Kingdom takes place.
“It was important to me that I not impress my idea of what they should be onto the film,” she said. “So I spoke to a lot of women, a lot of historians on the black African Botswana side, and one of them said to me, ‘We really are very laid back. We’re very subdued. We like to use very natural, neutral colors. That’s just who we are.’”
To insert some color into the film’s aesthetic, then, she gave all the prints to Pike’s character. “In the U.K., she’s wearing very simple colors that are bold, but they don’t have any pattern on them,” Asante explained. “We waited until she got to Africa—and then we bought the pattern and the coloring through her.”