The Inspiration for “Belle”
- Posted By : Lynn
- Comments : 5
Three months ago I wandered into a stately home called Kenwood House in London’s Hampstead Heath. I was struck by the liveliness of an unusual 1779 portrait of two young women.Dressed in silks and pearls, they are clearly friends and equals, yet one is blonde and one is black. Then it occurred to me—this must have been the home of Dido Belle, subject of a movie I’d been trying to book.
Belle writer/director Amma Asante was given a print of that same portrait several years ago, and had her own questions. Who were the white girl posing demurely in the foreground and the impish black girl streaking by behind her? How did such an unconventional relationship form at a time when England was the center of the slave trade? How did they fit into that rigid society? What became of them?
Dido Belle Lindsay was the mixed-race daughter of an officer in the British Navy and an African slave. After her mother’s death her father brought her to the home of his uncle, William Murray, Lord Mansfield, to be raised. The Mansfields were already raising another niece, Lady Elizabeth Murray, and the two girls were brought up almost as equals.
I say almost, because there were cultural attitudes that even people as eminent in society as Lord and Lady Mansfield could not overcome. Dido was a young woman of property, but black. Elizabeth had no dowry. Both seemed equally doomed to a life without marriage and the respect and security that came with it.
Intrigued? Catch Belle at The Clyde Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday July 8-10 to find out more.