Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)

Directed by: Chiwetel Ejiofor | 113 minutes | biography, drama | Actors: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maxwell Simba, Felix Lemburo, Robert Agengo, Fiskan Makawa, Aïssa Maïga, Fredrick Lukhere, Hestingzi Phiri, Rophium Banda, Philbert Falakeza, Samson Kambalu, Raymond Ofula, Noma Dumezweni

Malawi 2001. Although climate change has not really penetrated the world yet, the village of Wimbe is already suffering from drought. The harvest threatens to fail, first because of too much water, then because of too little. The family of the young William Kamcamba is also having a hard time. William can’t go to school due to lack of money and his sister Annie threatens to flee the house. Fortunately, William can go to the school library, and there he finds inspiration to help Wimbe out of trouble once and for all.

In the true-event-based Netflix drama ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’, we follow William in his quest. The idea is to make a water pump, powered by a windmill. Before that, William must first convince everyone, his own father first. He has to sacrifice his bicycle to get the mill working.

‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’ tells a current story with a clear message. That climate change has consequences and that Africa benefits most from education. This story comes to us in beautiful images of the African landscape, occasionally with the divine voice of Ouomou Sangaré in the background. What could possibly go wrong?

A lot. The feature-length debut by actor and director Chiwetel Ejiofor is overflowing with African clichés. The scraping on the garbage dump, the rickety radios, the everywhere buzzing flies, the shaman-like figures, the running through the streets during social unrest, the spontaneously bursting into song and dance with every windfall. The cliché also applies to the characters. The Kamkomenba family is straight out of a Disney movie, while other characters scoff at the caricatured villain.

Even more disturbing are the lousy dialogues. The fact that characters use English and Nyanja interchangeably still seems authentic. But otherwise those dialogues are wooden, unnatural and they are mainly used for announcements to the viewer. This leads to strange conversations, such as when a friend of William points to his sister and says something along the lines of ‘hey, that’s your sister’. Nice to know for the viewer, but you can hope that William recognizes his own sister.
All in all, ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’ is a typical case of hit or miss. Urgent, with beautiful pictures and a clear message. But also naive, sentimental and more Disney than Netflix.

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