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.

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Ross

    Thanks for the blog. I’ve never read the books but like you, what struck me about the film last night is the amazingly positive picture of African / Botswanan humanity it painted.

    I think you have identified a really important point about so much of African art, which oscillates between polarising extremes. We’re used to seeing the amazing scenery and wildlife, but when it comes to the people, images tend to go from traditional African art (and all the implications of a somewhat backward culture that we can patronise) and modern Africa that seems unable to lift itself out of corruption, suffering and wasted potential.

    So apart from the ok plot, the wonderful colour of the cinematography and an introduction to what I’m sure will be even more colourful characters as I get to know them in the series next year it was great to finally see something that celebrated a positive modern Africa.

    Personally what surprised me (and I can only assume that this draws on real life) was the immense sense of patriotism the main characters felt for Botswana. On a number of occasions characters would say that they wanted to right an injustice because it was a scar on their country.

    I have no idea of how diverse Botswana is and whether it has the tribal tensions of other African nations – perhaps because of its size it is a single-tribe nation?
    However, whatever the case, I think that in the midst of the plot line and cinematography I got to wonder what we could learn about patriotism from the Botswana of the No. 1 Ladies Detective agency.

    Embracing development and progress is really important while we value and remember our culture and heritage.

    But we should never look back at the past with rose tinted glasses. It was great to see Precious hate the elements of traditional culture that should be abhorrent to all of us – in this case using and maiming children to get some sort of protective power spell.
    She was clear that her country would be better for this bit of her cultural past being purged.

    If only we could all be so positive about what we should value and what we should fight to eradicate.

    Of course as citizens of a heavenly kingdom our patriotism to an earthly nation must always come second to our Lord (something too many nationalists in this country and others forget). But that shodl make us see the good and evil in our country all the more clearly, and what we should celebrate and cherish and what we should not tolerate.

    I’m sure Wilberforce would have agreed with me when he was fighting slavery. If you look at the opposition he face it was not simply an economic argument verses an ethical stand – Wilberforce’s contemporaries often argued in favour of slavery because it was part of ‘our culture and heritage’ and would lead to social breakdown.

    And so I come to your earlier blog (and sermon) about tolerance, and a point about the danger and cruelty of pluralism that has no absolutes of good and evil…. But that’s a comment (and blog by you) for another time!

  2. Anel van der Merwe

    Hi there. We would like to find out how to get hold of one of the images of Precious Ramotswe that is posted on this blog. We are writing a short piece in a section of our magazine called Afro Positive, and it is about the Nr1 ladies. Is there any way to get hold of the right person to talk to to find out how we need to go about if we would like to use the image.

    I’m looking forward to your response.

    Kind regards,

  3. markmeynell

    The best thing is probably to get in touch with the BBC publicity department which you can reach through the first link in the post. hope that helps.

  4. Richard Somerville

    I didn’t know there was a movie!! I must find out where it is, or if DVD is available?

    I have read many of the books, and found them totally captivating. And that Jill Scott is creating the role of Mma. Ramotswe… that is just too Much!! She is an outstanding performer, and will bring much of her personal charm, and grace to the character…. Please email me with information as to the US Release of this production… I can’t wait!

  5. ekspekt

    interesting post, will come back here, bookmarked your site

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