The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Made for television and never shown in cinemas, this was Anthony Minghella’s last film before his tragic death in March of this year. It contains his trademark look, a thing of beauty, yet is light hearted and more sentimental (in the best sense) than his other films, with the possible exception of his first, Truly Madly Deeply.

In the same way that an Ealing Studios comedy, such as Whisky Galore, pokes fun at the simple minded attitudes of country folk, ensuring, naturally, that they succeed in the end with their honest, essentially decent and courageous approach to life. Alexander McCall Smith’s creation, Mma Ramotswe, operates on instinct and acute observation, taught by her beloved father in the Botswanan bush.

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After he dies and leaves her 180 cows, which is a small fortune amongst black farmers, Mma Ramotswe (Jill Scott) sells the animals and drives to Gaborone to set up a detective agency. When asked why, she says, “I love my country Africa and I want to do good in the time God has given me.”

The smooth-talking estate agents, who offer her open plan office space in modern tower blocks, are shooed away when she decides to buy a dilapidated ex-post office on the edge of town, opposite the Last Chance Hair Salon, run by the gloriously camp BK (Desmond Dude), who quickly becomes Mma Ramotswe’s ally. Her first and best friend is ace mechanic and owner of Speedy Motors, Mr Matekone (Lucian Msamati), a man of integrity and uncommon decency, who came to her rescue when her car broke down on the way to Gaborone.

The film tells of the eccentric first cases of The Ladies Detective Agency, which added the No 1 because there were no other ladies doing the job in Botswana and the apostrophe because Mma Ramotswe insisted. If charm lubricates every working part of this delightful film, it is Mma Ramotswe’s character that fuels it. “I don’t like telephones,” she tells her straight-backed, straight-laced, thin secretary, Mma Makutsi (Anika Noni Rose). “People talk to you willy-nilly.” She is a large lady with ample reservoirs of compassion and understanding, while fiercely determined when challenged, or lied to.

American soul singer Scott is an inspired choice. She embraces the role of Mma Ramotswe with the deepest affection and seriousness. The script by Minghella and Richard Curtis remains faithful to McCall Smith’s novel and the acting throughout is flawless and often very funny.

Reviewed on: 29 Oct 2008
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The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency packshot
Uncovering mysteries in Botswana, with accute observation of human nature and oodles of charm.
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Director: Anthony Minghella

Writer: Richard Curtis, Anthony Minghella, based on the novel by Alexander McCall Smith

Starring: Jill Scott, Anika Noni Rose, Lucian Msamati, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Desmond Dube, Tumisho Masha, Bongeka Mpongwana, David Oyelowo, John Kani, Vusi Kunene

Year: 2008

Runtime: 150 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK/South Africa


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