No bodices seem to have been harmed, much less ripped, during the making of “Belle,” a period film at once sweeping and intimate, about an 18th-century Englishwoman who transcends her historical moment. Even so, peekaboo bosoms tremble throughout the movie amid the rustle of luxurious gowns and the gasps of polite company as conventions are crushed underfoot. Melodramatic and grounded in history, “Belle” is enough of an old-fashioned entertainment that it could have been made in classic Hollywood. Well, except for one little thing that would have probably given old studio suits apoplexy: The movie’s prettily flouncing title character is biracial.
She’s based on Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804), the daughter of an African woman, Maria Bell, who was probably enslaved and maybe captured off a ship by Sir John. The details of Bell’s life are murky, but when Dido was young, Sir John took her to Lord Mansfield, who raised her alongside another grandniece, Elizabeth Murray (played by a strong Sarah Gadon).
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