Belle is a poignant and powerful film produced by Damian Jones (whose past triumphs include The History Boys and The Iron Lady), telling the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the mixed race daughter of a slave and a British admiral, who brought Dido to Britain to live with his uncle at Kenwood.
Dido Belle is captured within a wonderful painting now hanging at Scone Palace in Perth, and in May, an exhibit opened at the Palace to coincide with the UK release of the film. The connection between the film and the exhibition is that the only portrait representation of Dido Belle known to exist hangs in the Ambassador’s Room at Scone Palace.
Dido Elizabeth Belle was born in the 18th century to Sir John Lindsay, nephew of the 1st Earl of Mansfield, and the African slave Maria Belle. She was brought up under the care and protection of the 1st Earl of Mansfield who was the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. The 1st Earl’s family home was at Scone Palace, and his successors are the owners of the Scone Palace and Mansfield Estates.
In 1772, the Earl of Mansfield ruled that no slave could be taken from England or Wales under force, saying: “The state of slavery is of such a nature and so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it.” This judgement is now viewed as a crucial early step towards the international abolition of slavery.
Scone Palace has announced that the exhibition will include interpretive panels which will explore Belle’s lineage and family tree, and provide background on her father Sir John Lindsay’s illustrious naval career, which saw him serve in a number of wars and campaigns that were crucial in the rise of the British Empire. A central focus of the exhibition will be the 1779 portrait attributed to Johann Zoffany, which depicts Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray.
The exhibition will also tell the story of Scotland’s connections with the slave trade, highlighting how, after the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, many defeated Scots Jacobites fled to the West Indies to become slave masters in plantations.
Also on display will be costumes from the period, the only archive in the Scone Palace collection that relates to John Lindsay – a ‘‘very private and confidential’’ letter from Lord Sandwich, Lord of the Admiralty, to the 1st Earl of Mansfield – and an inkwell which belonged to the Earl and dates from the 1700s.
The Hon. William Murray, Master of Stormont, who carried out much of the historical research for the exhibition, said: “We are delighted to be launching this exciting new exhibition to coincide with the release of the film Belle. We hope the exhibition will provide fans of the film and visitors to Scone Palace with a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of Belle and her family, as well as a unique insight into the rich history of the period.”
Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive of VisitScotland added that “film tourism is a growing trend, and it’s great news for Perthshire that Scone has such strong ties to this movie, creating the exhibition to promote the history, heritage and real people behind [its] story.”
The exhibition runs throughout the summer season. For more information, please go to www.scone-palace.co.uk.