May 27, 2014

Dido Elizabeth Belle

Not very much is known about the details of the real life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the heroine of the new film Belle. There is only one known depiction of Dido, the painting above where she is pictured as her cousin Elizabeth Murray's equal. The painting is very unusual for its time and all the more beautiful for it.

Born in 1761, Dido Elizabeth Belle/Lindsey was the illegitimate daughter of British naval Admiral Sir John Lindsey and Maria Belle, an enslaved African woman Lindsey met in the Caribbean. Admiral Lindsey brought Dido to his uncle the 1st Earl of Mansfield to be raised alongside her cousin Elizabeth Murray as a lady. The situation would have seemed highly unusual and vaguely scandalous at that time. Not only because of the 18th century's view of people of African or mixed race origin, but also because Dido was still illegitimate (born out of wedlock) which was scandalous enough no matter ones skin color.

Still Dido was raised within the aristocratic household as a nearly full-fledged member of the family. She received an education (and helped with her uncles correspondence) , was her cousins close companion and was given charge of the estates dairy and poultry yards, a position reserved for aristocratic ladies of the household at that time. Raised as a lady but still stuck in a world where the color of her skin would be harshly judged, Dido is a figure well worth remembering today.

Find out more about Dido in this informative article.

I had the privilege of seeing this film last night and I can report it was amazing! Lead actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido was a wonder to watch, giving a stunning performance. All of the acting was marvelous as were the sets and costumes. I definitely recognized some of the gowns from other productions; most notably one of Elizabeth Murray's gowns was a costume made for but not used in The Duchess. Though the costumes were beautiful I lost track of them while watching this powerful story.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw has stated in interviews that she watched her friends get hired out of drama school for period pieces and Austen adaptations but she wasn't being cast as there are so few representations of mixed-race people in 18th century and 19th century history. As everyone knows how important representation is, and how often people of color are under represented (or misrepresented) in history and also today's media, I think this is an important film taking a step forward. I recommend you watch the Gugu Mbatha-Raw interview below about the film...

Watch the featurette for the film below and make sure to go and see this movie! It is a beautiful period piece and important story in one!


  1. This movie is at the top of my current "must see" list. I adore historical/period films in general, but all the more so when women are at their heart and even further so when there's a very unique element to the tale, as there is here with Dido. I love that Hollywood is shining the spotlight on this intriguing, beautiful lady of yore.

    ♥ Jessica

    1. I too love period films in general, which is why this film popped up on my radar in the first place. I just loved it!


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