Watch: “Behind the Painting” that Inspired ‘Belle’ Movie Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle in 'Belle' (2013)

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle in ‘Belle’ (2013)

Before there was Belle, a compelling period drama which premiered in New York City and Los Angeles on May 2nd, there was the gorgeous painting that inspired it.

The Amma Asante-directed feature is based on the trials and tribulations of Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804), a mixed-race girl born into an aristocratic family in 18th century England.

ALSO SEE: Amma Asante’s Historical-Drama ‘Belle’ to Hit VOD on August 12

It follows the circumstances under which Dido — the illegitimate daughter of John Lindsay (a white British Naval officer) and an African slave woman known only as Maria Belle — was raised, her peculiar social status, and her influence in the abolishment of slavery in England.

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle with cousin Elizabeth by unknown artist, 1779

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle with cousin Elizabeth by unknown artist, 1779

The featurette below takes us behind the 1779 oil painting that inspired the screenplay, which is written by Misan Sagay.

Formerly attributed as the artwork of Johann Zoffany, “the painting depicts Dido alongside her cousin Elizabeth, carrying exotic fruit and wearing a turban with a large feather. She is portrayed with great vivacity, while the depiction of her cousin (Lady Elizabeth Murray (1760-1825)) is more sedate and formal. Her cousin’s hand lies upon Dido’s waist, suggesting affection and equality rather than a subordinate status. The painting, which hangs at Scone Palace in Perth, Scotland, is owned by the present Earl of Mansfield.”

In 2007, it was exhibited in Kenwood alongside events marking the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807.

Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle‘s cast also includes Miranda Richardson, Tom Wilkinson, Sarah Gadon, Sam Claflin, Matthew Goode, Tom Felton, Sam Reid, James Norton, and Penelope Wilton.

Produced by DJ Films, Isle of Man Film, the British Film Institute, Head Gear Films (Funding), Metrol Technology, and Pinewood Pictures, the film is distributed to theaters by Fox Searchlight and to DVD by Twentieth Century Fox.

As of May 9, 2014, the film has grossed $634,210. It will continue to roll out to theaters in the U.S. throughout May/June 2014.