We watched the greatly anticipated, feature-length pilot of The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency last night. Poignant because of the death of its director, Anthony Minghella this week, it was a triumph. I’d been nervous because we’ve loved the books so much. They capture so wonderfully and incongruously (I mean, you couldn’t invent Alexander McCall Smith, the Scottish medical lawyer who gets under the skin of Botswana – below with Jill Scott who plays Precious) the drone of crickets and freshness of an African dawn.
Of course, it is fantasy. But then isn’t all drama? And it paints a wonderfully positive picture of African culture. But then how often do we get that on film? Think of these films: sure they have their heroes and uplift, but the worlds they present are not exactly bristling with optimism, are they?
- Cry Freedom
- The Constant Gardener
- The Last King of Scotland
- Hotel Rwanda
- Blood Diamond
This is more Miss Marple than Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect) – it does for African female detectives what Agatha Christie did for cycling spinsters living in the English shires! But this is not to say that the cruelties of African life are completely obscured. After all, Precious is a detective. The sinister world of witch doctors abducting children and the exigencies of poverty (i.e. the insurance scams to pay for AIDS orphans’ education etc) are never far away. Mma Ramotswe has both a profound humanity and a fearless sense of justice that are magnetic and always manage to find a way through it all. The credit for this of course must ultimately go to McCall-Smith’s books – but what was such a relief and a joy was that the film so faithfully captured all of this and more. Beautifully filmed, tight but authentic script, wonderful acting (lots of minor characters stick in the mind, esp Spooks actor David Oyelowo playing ladies’ man Kremlin!).
I have to say it all made me nostalgic and miss our life in Uganda – which now seems a millennium away. What a different, distant life it all seems. We won’t do to get all rosy-tinted about things – but this film reminded me so strongly why I love Africa so much. And you can’t say fairer than that.