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BELLE

The Mansfield Household
With the main characters cast, BELLE was soon blessed with an extraordinary supporting cast made up of acclaimed and award-winning actors. Taking the role of Lady Mansfield is two-time Oscar nominee Emily Watson, most recently seen in Joe Wright's ANNA KARENINA and Steven Spielberg's WAR HORSE. Asante sees her as something of the power behind the throne. "Lady Mansfield, in her own way, was running that household," the director comments. "I feel very strongly that it would have been impossible for Dido to have been brought up the way she was -- as a lady and an equal -- without Lady Mansfield sanctioning it. I feel she was a woman with a great heart."

Watson admi ts that such phi lanthropy is perhaps not uppermost in Lady Mansfield's mind when Dido first arrives at Kenwood House. "Her first reaction," she says, "is, 'How dare you?' Racism was completely accepted in those days -- it was unusual to think about it in any other way. But Lady Mansfield quickly decides to take this challenge, though she knows there will be problems ahead. What's going to happen when Dido gets to the age when she needs to be out in society? Is she going to marry? It was a profound, brave and singularly principled thing to do at that time."

Lady Elizabeth Murray, Dido's companion in the painting, a role taken by Sarah Gadon (A DANGEROUS METHOD). Asante sees her as another vital thread in Dido's story, creating a highly unconventional sibling relationship for the time. "When Dido arrives, Elizabeth could either feel that this is somebody who is encroaching on her territory, or she could see her as a friend, as a sister. So she makes a choice: she's going to love Dido and not see her color," says the director. "It was really important to me that their bond be realistic. They can argue and they do argue, but they never cross that line."

Gadon was drawn to Asante's approach. "Amma created a beautiful aesthetic. But what I love is that behind that aesthetic, there is real weight and so much passion in terms of the themes. It's a love story but it's also about what it was like being a woman in that time, whether a mixed-race woman or a woman who is white but poor, like Elizabeth," she recalls.

The relationship between Elizabeth and Dido fascinated Gadon in both its closeness and competitiveness. "I really wanted to bring out the contrast between them, energetically and emotionally," she explains. "I wanted Elizabeth to start out with an excitability of youth, a naïve quality, a hopefulness about her future, and then as you see her go through the process of discovering just how much finding a husband was about money during that time, you see all that change."

Another key family member is Lady Mary Murray, Lord Mansfield's unmarried sister, who becomes Dido Belle's and Lady Elizabeth Murray's governess. Taking the role is star of stage and screen Penelope Wilton, whose recent work include television's runaway hit "Downton Abbey" and THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL.

"Lady Mary is a very caring woman, but feels that she has to keep the decorum of the house," says Wilton. "She has a side to her that can be severe -- but there's also a very romantic side to her -- and she wants the girls to have a life, and not the life that she had."

Matthew Goode (WATCHMEN, A SINGLE MAN, MATCH POINT) takes the role of Dido's father, Sir John Lindsay, who plucks her from the portside slums and brings her to Lord Mansfield. "Dido makes quite an impact on my character," says Goode. "He finds her in an appalling state, which is why he wants to take her away and put her with his family. When he arrives at Kenwood house, Lord Mansfield and the ladies in the room are shocked by Dido's color. But I think Lindsay knows he's got a good heart, and that he will take her in spite of the risks."

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