The Story of Dido Elizabeth Belle

300px-Dido_Elizabeth_Belle

I’ve long been interested in the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle who lived in the late 18th and early 19th century. The child of the British admiral John Lindsay and an enslaved African woman (possibly named Maria Belle), she was sent to Kenwood House, the home of her great-uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield as a young child.  The earl was already raising his great-niece, Lady Elizabeth Murray who was the same age as Dido and so the two girls grew up together with Dido evidently becoming Elizabeth’s personal companion.  While in his rulings as Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Mansfield indicated his distaste for the institution of slavery, in his own household there is evidence that Dido was treated in demeaning ways, clearly not viewed as equal to Elizabeth and others in the family.  You can learn more about her here and here.

Now there is a movie about Dido, Belle, due to be released here soon. Variety has given a favorable review, noting that while it will appeal to Austen fans it doesn’t shy away from addressing the harsher topic of slavery.  The Guardian also weighed in, And below is the trailer. I’m eager to see it and learn for myself as to how successful it is.

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Filed under Film, Movies

7 responses to “The Story of Dido Elizabeth Belle

  1. I am so excited about this, mainly because that lovely painting by Zoffany hangs in Scone Palace, which we can see from our bedroom window (the palace, not the painting!). It has long been a favorite of mine, partly because it’s so intriguing and astonishing for its time.

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  2. Looks fascinating! Kenwood House – just up the road from us, did you ever visit? – has just re-opened after a year’s refurbishment, and you can read some of Mansfield’s journals. I’m curious to see how much was filmed there – last time I saw it on film was with Julia Roberts in Notting Hill! Sadly the picture itself isn’t there any more, but there is a reproduction, and her story is told for young visitors.

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    • I never did go inside Kenwood House though I went nearby. Elizabeth Wein above mentions that the painting is now near her in Scotland, in Scone Palace.

      Interestingly, yesterday I saw the trailer again at a showing for Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. Hard to tell if it is going to be any good in terms of representing this story as something more than a costume, romantic, period piece.

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  3. Yes, but still interesting to see it. Did you ever come across Jefferson in Paris? Also gets rather short shrift from The Guardian as a movie, http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/feb/04/reel-history-jefferson-in-paris
    but told a true story.

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  4. I saw the movie and loved it. I cried. I laughed. I think it represented the life of Dido very well.

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