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Ayesha's Blog

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Belle versus Begin Again

02 August

Father-daughter relationships are complicated.

 I hate it when they are introduced in films but never really explored and ultimately neglected.

I watched two films last month with father-daughter relationships. One was “Belle”, the other was “Begin Again”. The young women (Belle, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Violet, played by Hailee Steinfeld) are treated very differently by their fathers. 

Belle and Violet. Belle growing up in the 18th Century, Violet in the 21st Century. For each their father left them. For Belle, her father left making sure his child would be provided for. For Violet her father walked out on her and didn’t look back. He gave up and focused on himself – he got drunk and got himself fired from his own business.

In Belle the audience is shown how in the eyes of society at the time, Belle’s father has done something confusing and wrong. He brought a black child into a white aristocratic family and asked for her to be treated equally. By the end of the film we see how the actions of Belle’s father support her growth into a strong woman who finds love and establishes an honourable place in society despite racist circumstances. In Begin Again Violet’s father is portrayed to the audience as a victim we should empathise with and understand. We are made to consider his pain and understand the reasons he left his child. He is presented to us in the film as some kind of hero. 

The purposeful abandonment of a child by a parent is abhorrent and a film that makes its audience think any differently is filling people’s heads with nonsense. 

Belle is a story of love. A true demonstration of romance, truth and grace. Begin Again, although described as a rom-com, is about weakness. A demonstration of unforgivable acts, betrayal and confusion. 

I loved Belle for many reasons and the beautiful father-daughter relationship is one of those reasons. The father’s strong love echoes throughout the film ending with a joyful conclusion. Neither of these films is about father-daughter relationships per se but the father-daughter bond, the parent-child bond, is important and central to a child’s development and growth. It’s a shame greater care was not taken over this sub-story line in Begin Again, the father-daughter relationship was just thrown away on the side, it was neglected. For me this was unnecessarily negative and ruined what was otherwise a good film. 

In Begin Again the justification for the father’s abandonment of his daughter is that his wife cheated on him. Other films (for example Last Chance Harvey with Dustin Hoffman’s character and his daughter Susan, played by Liane Balaban) give a similar justification for father daughter estrangement. These films portray the behaviour of a man abandoning his child because his wife has cheated on him as conventional.

A film that casually justifies a man’s failings by demonising a woman is sexist. 

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