As we celebrate A United Kingdom, let’s take a look back at a half-dozen films that feature a mélange of African royalty, real and imagined
Queen of Katwe (2016)
Queen in this title is clever wordplay referencing both the leading character, Phiona Mutesi (played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga), and her chosen pursuit, chess. Directed by India-born Mira Nair, the movie is a satisfying drama about a young, poor Ugandan village girl’s aspirations to become a chess master. Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o is Phiona’s protective yet supportive mother, and David Oyelowo is her encouraging coach.
The Last King of Scotland (2006)
Forest Whitaker gives a no-holds-barred, Oscar-winning performance as Idi Amin, the flamboyant, mercurial dictator of Uganda in this drama by director Kevin McDonald (State of Play). James McAvoy portrays an impressionable Scottish surgeon who falls under the thrall of Amin’s charisma but then helplessly (and fearfully) witnesses the ruler’s descent into madness and danger. The stellar supporting cast also includes Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson, and David Oyelowo.
When We Were Kings (1996)
The kings in this case are monarchs of the boxing ring Muhammed Ali and George Foreman. The Leon Gast documentary, which won an Oscar, explores the 1974 championship bout staged in Zaire by impresario Don King, who branded it “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Of course, boxing fans remember that Foreman was then the champion and Ali the underdog challenger seeking a comeback. It was this fight where Ali employed his “rope-a-dope” strategy to defeat Foreman. Incidentally, it took director Gast 20 years to complete the film.
The Lion King (1994)
Arguably the best animated movie in the modern Disney canon, The Lion King blends a winning score by Elton John and Tim Rice (“Circle of Life,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”) with stunning visuals depicting the African wilderness, and a terrific voice cast. The story of a young lion who must leave home to learn the meaning of true leadership is brought to vibrant vocal life by Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Madge Sinclair, Nathan Lane, Rowan Atkinson and Jeremy Irons. Can you say (or rather sing) “Hakuna Matata”?
Coming to America (1988)
One of the few feature films to really capture the young Eddie Murphy’s winning juxtaposition of cockiness and innocence, this John Landis comedy tells the story of a young African prince Akeem and his unroyal adventures in New York City. Accompanied by his servant (played by Arsenio Hall), Akeem disguises himself as a lowly wage earner to find a wife who won’t pursue him only for his wealth and noble birth. Murphy and Hall both play numerous roles (in heavy make-up), joined by James Earl Jones, Madge Sinclair and John Amos.
The African Queen (1951)
This Queen is a rickety riverboat piloted by scruffy rumpot Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart). When Charlie takes on a prim missionary, Rose (Katharine Hepburn), as a passenger, the stage is set for a thoroughly offbeat romance, made all the more delightful by its utter implausibility. Briskly and wryly directed by John Huston, this Technicolor fantasy is filled by wilderness adventure, arch dialogue, and a master class in screen acting from Hepburn and Bogart. This film was Bogart’s only Oscar win.
And a shot…appearing at Theatre N, the weekend of March 10:
My Life as a Zucchini (2016) Screening March 10-12
This poignant animated film follows Courgette (French for zucchini) as he experiences a new life at a French orphanage. Eventually, Courgette overcomes his own traumatic past to forge a new family with his fellow orphans and a kindly policeman who befriends him. The stop-motion style provides a buoyant, colorful complement to a story that doesn’t shy away from serious childhood themes: abandonment, disappointment and resilience. Nominated for a Best Animated Feature Academy Award. For a full schedule and more information, go to theatren.com.