Monday, March 30, 2009

TV Review: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

I had heard that the late Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella had been in the works to produce a film version of the books by Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. But it showed on the BBC and there didn't seem to be any news on a U.S. premiere or even a DVD option. However, the wonderful HBO saw fit to bring a unique show from Botswana to an American audience. It premiered last night on HBO and will run as a series for about 7 weeks.

I've read all the books in this series, and have even spent some time in Botswana (okay, only 2 days, but none of it was at an airport so I think that counts). One of the things that happens when you've spent time in Africa (in my experience) is that people send you articles, books, pictures, etc. of anything they run across pertaining to Africa. This is how the book came into my possession. I admit, I occasionally brush off these attempts to connect, but I'm so glad I read this series. Smith captures the pace of Africa, and the way of speaking that most Africans use to create a more polite and dignified relationship between people. The books use all the traditional means of address, with Mma (you hum the first syllable and open your mouth for the end mmm..ah) for women of a certain age, and Rra (tiny roll of the r and then it's the same). The names are equally difficult for Americans (and maybe all Westerns to spit out). The main character Mma Precious Ramotswe appears in nearly all scenes and reading her name over and over was a stumbling block when I first started reading the books. The movie makes nearly all of the names and places easier to understand and relate to. The only issue with connecting is that the accent is occasionally difficult to understand when they're also saying new words. There's a British inflection, but a wholly African delivery.

The mini-series stars Jill Scott (Why Did I get Married?) as the traditionally built Mma Ramotswe who has left her tiny village and opened a detective agency in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. She has a keen eye and reads people well. She hires a secretary, the Tony winner and Dreamgirl, Anika Noni Rose, the extremely competent, if always irritating, Mma Grace Makutsi. The other help Mma Ramotswe receives is from a mechanic, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, and her neighbor hair-dresser BK (who I don't remember from the books, but is a terrific addition). The premiere follows the set up of the agency and her first 3 cases. It shows some of the darker side of people and of life in Africa, but if you don't want to visit Botswana and Africa after you've seen this mini-series, you best give back your passport. I loved the opening and can't wait for the rest.

1 comment:

Buttercup said...

Didn't see the episode, but really want to and especially after reading your review. Have "Morality for Beautiful Girls" sitting right by my side next on my list to read.