Chiwetel Ejiofor’s acting career features many projects in which he explores African stories and identities across both the continent and the diaspora. Often, he does so under white and western directors, so it is fitting and satisfying to see him take on the childhood story of Malawian innovator William Kamkwamba in his own directorial debut.
William (newcomer Maxwell Simba) is growing up on a farm on which his family rely for food. When the rains fail to come, food and money quickly become scarce and the bookish teen is forced to give up his costly schooling, coming home to tend the land with his father (Ejiofor). Fascinated by magnets and electricity, he is inspired to build a wind turbine to pump water into the fields even in dry weather, but must contest his father’s will to do so.
A rousing true story, it’s not a groundbreaking project for BBC Films, but it is given substance by Ejiofor’s commitment to authenticity in both the realisation of the culture of William’s village and the context of political unrest that unbalanced the country at the time, in the late 1990s.
Ejiofor proves a subtly dynamic director – without ever fully pushing the envelope, he adds gently innovative focus-shifts, pull-backs and edits that bend rather than break convention, keeping Boy lively and engaging.
Simba plays the exuberant head of a bustling and likeable cast, which carries the narrative with grace and humour, and his chemistry with Ejiofor is quietly devastating. As father and son, their journey to grow beyond tradition and expectation gives Boy its bright, beating heart.
Conventionally emotional and wholly felt, Ejiofor has chosen here a worthwhile story and taken full, earnest control of its telling. Capturing Malawi at a key stage in its transition to modernity, he emerges as a considerate, promising director.
CAST: Maxwell Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Noma Dumezweni, Joseph Marcell, Aïssa Maïga
DIRECTOR: Chiwetel Ejiofor
WRITERS: Chiwetel Ejiofor (screenplay), William Kamkwamba (based on the book by)
SYNOPSIS: A boy in Malawi helps his village by building a wind turbine after reading about them in a library book.