It’s been three years since British actress Rosamund Pike scored a career breakthrough playing the title role in “Gone Girl,” the hit adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-seller.

But, in the wake of Pike’s Oscar nomination as Best Actress, she seemed to disappear from movie screens.

As it turns out, Pike had a good reason for being, well, gone. After the release of “Gone Girl,” the actress took time off to give birth to a second child with her partner, businessman Robie Uniacke, and then she shot five high-profile movies in a row.

The first of those pictures – “A United Kingdom” – is now in theaters, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Based on a true story, the movie unreels the saga of Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana who caused an international stir when he married a white woman from London in the late 1940s.

“Selma” headliner David Oyelowo plays Seretse while Pike plays Ruth Williams, a clerk who falls head over heels in love with a law student who turns out to be an African king in waiting.

As depicted in the movie, the union between Seretse and Ruth sends shock waves through Britain and Botswana. Members of the British government, in particular, tried to undermine the union because they were worried about offending Botswana’s neighbor South Africa, then in the midst of its apartheid movement.

Pike admits she had never heard of Prince Seretse and Ruth Williams before beginning the movie but when her long-time friend Oyelowo contacted her, she had a most unusual reaction to the true-life saga.

“David Oyelowo wrote me an email that said, ‘I’m going to send you a script about arguably the greatest love story of the 20th century.’ That obviously piqued my interest,” says Pike, 38.

“I thought, all right, that’s a big claim, and let me see what this is. He’d also sent me a deck of photographs of the real couple, and I didn’t know who they were. I didn’t know anything about the story. I just opened these photographs and I saw this man and this woman, and I had a gut-punch reaction to these photographs.

“Tears started pouring down my cheeks and I had a really unusual, visceral, immediate connection with something. I thought, ‘Well I’ve got to pay attention to that.’

“I saw this love [between them] and I somehow saw the struggle and what it had cost them to reach that point. I think it’s the courageousness of love, really, that still draws me to the story.”

Even though Pike and Oyelowo have been friends for years, they’d never worked together before on such an intense project. Their explosive chemistry quickly became one of the film’s key strengths.

“As soon as I read it, I could see David playing it, and I have known David for a number of years and really love his work but I had no idea that we would have the connection that we ended up having in this film. It was just a joy to experience and find.

“It’s interesting when you know someone and then you find that you have this electrifying chemistry with them as these characters. That was what was so exciting about it. I’m sure it’s this sort of chemical equation of me, plus David, plus Seretse and the fact that we both felt deeply committed to these people. It was just magic, from day one.”

Before the movie began shooting, Pike paid a visit to the British Library to consult the archives about the hows and the whys of Williams and Seretse’s love affair.

Pike believes one of the reasons Williams responded so strongly to Seretse was because she was an adventurer who longed to live life to the fullest.

“Ruth had just lived through the Second World War, where [she’d] been in touch with life and death in a very immediate way, and I think after that, [she] was ready to commit to things,” notes Pike. “[She] was ready to engage with life in an immediate way.

“I think she was also a part of the generation of women who’d seen a new version of what women could be during the Second World War. They’d stepped into men’s roles and jobs and had a vision that life could be more than being a housewife.

“She didn’t know what direction life would take, but she was craving that kind of involvement and excitement, and then she found it, in a very unexpected way.”

Pike believes that, most importantly of all, there was a great love between the pair.

“She was bold and she was in love with this man. The point is, everyone who talked about that couple through their lives said they were genuinely, really, truly, beautifully in love. So she found certainty, and I think when you find certainty, it’s a no-brainer to follow it.”

Pike certainly took the role to heart. While she was filming the movie in Africa, she and Oyelowo met one of the couple’s grown children.

“We had a very amusing encounter with ‘our’ son, who’s now the President of Botswana,” says Pike. “There’s a very funny picture of me and David on either side of him, beaming, like we have a right to be parental with this man, who’s older than us, obviously. It’s quite a funny picture.”

There was nothing funny about Pike’s work on the movie “The Man With The Iron Heart,” a World War II-era look at a pair of Czech Resistance fighters who plot to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, Head of the SS, the Gestapo, and the architect of the Final Solution.

In the movie, due later this year, Pike plays Lina Heydrich, Reinhard’s wife. The actress was drawn to the role in hopes of understanding a woman far removed from herself.

“It’s very important to have somebody playing [the enemy] who you could potentially sympathize with,” says Pike. “I think the success of a movie like ‘Downfall’ was because Hitler was made to seem human.

“It’s very easy if you make these monsters monsters to hold them at arm’s length. The scary thing is that they [can be] people who have good qualities as well, or things that you could relate to or likability or whatever.

“I’m very interested in that, to play the truth of a character like that, to know what it felt like. Not to just play the Nazi, but to play the woman that was German in the 1920s and saw Hitler as a beacon of hope.

“Sure, it’s hard to imagine but that’s what I find engaging in my job, is having to put myself into situations that I can’t instinctively identify with. There’s a responsibility there.”

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