You write the reviews: The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Easter Day, BBC 1
Thursday 27 March 2008
Fans of Alexander McCall Smith's books have long awaited BBC1's television adaptation of The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and the final product, co-written by Richard Curtis and the late Anthony Minghella, and directed by Minghella, did not disappoint.
The heroine of the story is Mma Ramotswe, a woman of traditional build with traditional values. who used the money from selling the 180 cows she inherited from her late father to open Botswana's first ladies' detective agency, in the city of Gaborone.
The film, which features characters named Precious, Happy and Lucky, was possibly too "nice" to please the critics, whose viewing preferences are attuned to something more raw, gritty and sexy. But after a week of the usual grisly TV murders and sassy TV lawyers, there were plenty of viewers looking for cosy, easy-going Easter weekend TV, and this film delivered as promised, and did justice to the books and their characters.
Mma Ramotswe was kind and decent; Mma Makutsi was touchy and loyal; Mr J L B Matekoni was honest and upright. The sub-plots ranged from cheating husbands and fake fathers to child abduction and witchcraft, mixing the comical and the sinister without either seeming out of place.
The American actor and jazz singer Jill Scott, as Precious Ramotswe, was a little younger and less careworn in appearance than I had pictured her, but she managed to capture the soul of Mma Ramotswe: high-spirited and jolly, but with sadness in her past. She is not cheerful because she has never had a care in the world, but rather because she has known suffering and therefore appreciates goodness when she sees it.
Anyone who has read McCall Smith's books will understand that the uncomplicated style of the language is deceptively simple, rather than naive or primitive. And while many modern TV characters articulate like they have swallowed a thesaurus, Mma Ramotswe and her companions say what they think and feel, speaking from the heart rather than for dramatic effect.
McCall Smith's fondness and respect for Botswana and its people, whom he observes to be overall decent and content, shone through on screen as it does on the page, thanks to Minghella's sensitive direction. Both McCall Smith and Mma Ramotswe know there are unpleasant things in this world, but they choose to look on the bright side.
For Mma Ramotswe's numerous fans, who were anticipating a gentle, amusing tale of leisurely sleuthing in sun-bathed Gaborone, this was the No 1 Easter fare.
Clare McIntyre, student, Winchester
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