The portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray by Johann Zoffany
I can plainly see why Misan Sagay (screen writer for the movie Belle) was intrigued by this painting while visiting Scone Palace in Scotland. The painting's label read: "Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Murray, circa 1778." Of course, any one of us would be curious to know who the woman on the left was, and so was Ms. Sagay.
Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804) was an illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay and an African slave named Maria Belle. Dido's father sent her to live with his uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield. Incredibly for this time and age, she was brought up as a free young gentlewoman at Kenwood House with her cousin Elizabeth. It is said that William Murray might have been influenced by Belle in his capacity as Lord Chief Justice when he ruled on cases affecting the legitimacy of the slave trade.
I highly recommend seeing "Belle". It reminded me a little of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Belle, like Fanny lives in luxury, yet is not completely accepted or a part of it. They both are aware that they are different. They both are opposed to slavery. And they both escape bad fiances to marry cute good guys in the end! Besides a wonderful story, "Belle" offers lush and beautiful costumes and scenery.
The actors Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays Dido, and Sam Reid, who plays her love interest, John Davinier, are exceptionally good at tearing up to tug at our heartstrings. I expect to see much more of them in future films.