By Webster Tilton
A “family friendly” movie to watch this Spring is The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, a “Netflix” original film made by the BBC. It’s an impressive film that raises an interesting question; if your movie about one of the poorest countries on Earth feels authentic because it was filmed on location, does that count as good production value? Just food for thought (you’ll get the joke later).
My verdict: watch it. This isn’t one you need to be in a forgiving mood to enjoy, it’s just really, really well done. Spoilers ahead, here we go:
“The Boy” is theoretically a film about William Kamkwamba (Maxwell Simba) building a primitive wind turbine to save his village from a protracted famine. But the meat of the story is the desperation and determination of a small community trying to survive on next to nothing. Throughout the film William assembles the knowledge that he needs to save the family farm (is it still a cliché if it’s a true story?) and clashes with his father (same question) who doesn’t know enough to realize that his son’s idea for a windmill is the only chance they’ve got.
We watch as the situation in Wimbe village goes from bad to worse, beginning with a pitifully bad harvest and culminating in food riots when the government issued emergency supply trucks don’t show up with enough grain to go around. We see the strain of the situation turn William’s father Trywell (played masterfully by Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who also directed) from a kind and thoughtful man, to a desperately angry tyrant lashing out at everyone he loves as he tries to exert some tiny amount of control over the downward spiral of his family’s situation. Set against this is William’s ironclad belief that he can repair and power a decrepit water pump he found in the town dump, if only he could catch the tiniest of breaks.
And on that note, let me take a moment to praise the performance of Maxwell Simba. He’s completely believable from start to finish. Even more so than most of the adult actors, his acting never feels like it’s acting. We should keep our fingers crossed that this movie gets him the prominence he needs so that we can enjoy more of his work.
Costar and director Ejiofor blends excellent performances with excellent pacing and locations. He generates tension and emotion and makes his characters feel real. It isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s very solid and it has no serious defects.
Truth be told, there isn’t a lot more to say because although each of the film’s elements are well executed and grittily realistic, this isn’t a complex movie. But that, in and of itself, is something of a refreshing change. So take a break from the CGI superhero buffet and sit down for a couple of hours with a real movie.
You’ll be glad you did.