Period drama, starring Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson, set for release spring 2014.

Fox Searchlight has secured most worldwide rights, including North America and the UK, to Amma Asante’s Belle.

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The film features Gugu Mbatha-Raw in her first starring role along with Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon, Penelope Wilton, Miranda Richardson, Tom Felton and Matthew Goode.  

It is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral.  

Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Wilkinson) and his wife (Watson), Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the color of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing.  

Left to wonder if she will ever find love, Belle falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.

Damian Jones (The Iron Lady) produces. Misan Sagay is the credited writer on the project (both story and screenplay.)

Fox Searchlight plans to release it in spring 2014.

Asante said: “The experience and sensibilities of the team at Fox Searchlight make it a wonderful match for Belle. I am so pleased their passion for this film means it now has the ability to be seen by audiences worldwide. We’ve worked hard to turn historical facts of the life of a true pioneer into a compelling and moving cinema experience.”

In a statement, Fox Searchlight Pictures presidents Nancy Utley and Stephen Gilula said: “Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a revelation as Belle, she gives a brave and powerful performance joined by an outstanding ensemble cast and we look forward to introducing her to film audiences everywhere.  We were entranced by this inspiring story of love and perseverance during a time of significant social and legal changes.”

The deal was brokered by Fox Searchlight’s acquisitions vp Ray Strache, business affairs svp Megan O’Brien and worldwide acquisitions evp Tony Safford with Bankside Films’ co-MD Hilary Davis and head of sales and marketing Stephen Kelliher and Christos Michaels of Lee & Thompson, as well as Steve Christian on behalf of Isle of Man Film and Pinewood Pictures. 

The film was developed by the BFI Film Fund, which also backed production, alongside Isle of Man Film, Pinewood Pictures, Head Gear Films and Metrol Technology.