Verdict: 4 / 5
Leading Lady is a local film that can compete with international standards. It is an infectious charming tale worth the watch.
Jodi Rutherford (Katie McGrath) is our leading lady hopeful. Although she is dating the famous American director Daniel Taylor (Gil Bellows), Jodi’s acting career is still in the background. Taylor announces his new film will be about Afrikaans war heroine Willemse, and that he is still looking for his leading lady – the part Jodi assumed was hers. Jodi is a skilled actress, but how can a British bell portray the role of an Afrikaaner woman? Desperate to prove herself, she decides to go to Brandfort, South Africa to learn about the Afrikaans culture and history, in the hopes that it will prepare her for the role.
Upon arrival, Jodi is dressed in fashionable safari attire, mocking the common misconception that all of Africa is a jungle. The only form of transport is a taxi minibus that’s definitely not roadworthy. The locals poke fun at the foreign beauty, concluding that she must be a Russian mail-order bride. The laughter comes to a sudden halt when a wheel pops off, and everyone is temporarily stranded. It is then that Kobus Willemse (Bok van Blerk) drives by. He is accompanied by Petrus (Craig Palm) who encourages him to pick her up. Kobus doesn’t offer any special treatment, as he is skeptical of her, but his eccentric mother Magdelene (Brümilda van Rensburg) embraces Jodi with warm enthusiasm, mistaking her for royalty.
The Willemse and Jodi come to an agreement that she may stay with them if she directs the annual town play. This year will most likely be the last that it will be staged. The Willemse face bankruptcy, forcing Kobus to sell the family farm. He hopes the production displaying the family history might make it more appealing to buyers.
Yes, a Boer, an English lady and an American sounds like the start of a bad joke, but the diversity of international cultures make for a very heartfelt and natural comedy. Slowly the walls break down and the inevitable attraction between Kobus and Jodi takes flight, but of course Taylor arrives to ‘throw a spanner in the works’.
While it is a ‘romcom’, it is layered with subtext and deep sorrow and longing – be it for healing, opportunity or acceptance. It is these truths that make the film so relatable. Yes, the characters are made up of your standard caricatures, but it works in this case. Each performance is up to standard and works well as an ensemble to move the plot along.
Director Pretorius allows his cast creative freedom and it really shows. In the behind the scenes video, Bellows shares how he approached Pretorius about completely changing his character, resulting in the peacock persona we see in the final cut. We see Van Rensburg in a role we haven’t seen her play before and it is refreshingly amusing. Esmѐ Viviers did a beautiful job as production designer. She assigned a colour to each character (most evident in a Wes Anderson film). For example, purples for Taylor, pinks and florals for Magdelene and earthy colours for Kobus. Together with Director of Photography, Trevor Calverley, the film is definitely visually pleasing.
Bonus Features: Behind the Scenes, Cinema Trailer, Teaser Trailer, Matthew Mole ‘Same Parts’ Music Video, Bok van Blerk ‘Soutwater’ Music Video.