March 24th, 2008

The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Botswana basks in the light of a never-ending afternoon. Is that golden glow for real, or did they achieve it with filters? You've got to suspect the latter, else why haven't we heard of this heaven on earth before? And why aren't all of us who can afford it living there?

I've just read a dismissive review in the Times. Their critic says Alexander McCall Smith's dialogue is unsayable. Oh, really?  I found it mannered but charming- like the dialogue in Wodehouse. I laughed a lot. And my worries about things turning out to be too insufferably whimsical were effectively chased off the field by Idris Elba's chilling turn as the local hard man.

Admittedly this is an indulgent outsider's view of Africa, the faces behind the camera were all white, the lead actors were all either British or American and the guiding sensibility is resolutely Anglo- in a tradition of gentle, pastoral comedy that goes back to the Forest of Arden and takes in Wodehouse, H.E. Bates, Whiskey Galore and the Vicar of Dibley. Nothing wrong with that. This is family entertainment, not documentary. This is a script co-authored by Richard Curtis.

Even so, we're talking about a landmark production- Mingella's last film, the first feature ever shot in Botswana- and when was the last time you saw a British movie in which every single cast member was black? Or a film about black people where race isn't an issue? Or a film in which the star- the radiant Jill Scott- is a black woman of "traditional build"? It seems unlikely but this unpretentious, sweet, little movie is both a marker and an agent of change. There is, after all, such a thing as a velvet revolution.