This pilot had a strange path to appearing on our television screens. It is based on, and shares its title with, Alexander McCall Smith's excellent series of books. The pilot's director Anthony Minghella (who unfortunately passed away after filming this episode) was a fan of the series from the off. Indeed he has a praising quote on the back of my paperback copy of the first book. Minghella began to develop the project as a feature film but felt that its gentle pace and small scale storytelling would work better on television. Thankfully Harvey Weinstein agreed and the project also got funding from reliable TV developers in the BBC and HBO.
Like the books the series is set in Botswana and Minghella took the bold step of filming on location - making this the first production filmed in Botswana. His decision pays off in the luscious and emmersive visuals that Minghella has captured and the sense of place this lends is essential to the feel of the pilot.
The cast is well put together and neatly sidestep the adaptation pitfall of jarring too much with the mental images of them I had already developed. To be honest Jill Scott has surplanted whatever picture I had of the titular detective I had when I first enjoyed the books. Scott is a Grammy Award winning singer with less accomplishments in acting but I feel certain Emmy's are on her horizon having enjoyed her performance here. She is ably supported by Lucian Msamati as mechanic JLB Matekoni, Anika Noni Rose as prim and proper Mma Matsuki and Desmond Dube as BK who will all continue as part of the starring cast. The pilot also features enjoyable performances accomplished stage actors like John Kani and David Oyelowo as subjects in Mma Ramotswe's investigations. Idris Elba (The Wire's Stringer Bell) also features as a menacing antagonist.
The adaptation is nimbly handled by accomplished screenwriter Richard Curtis and he manages to weave together only some of the elements from the first book without making omissions (or indeed additions like BK) glaringly obvious. The title sequence is a joy to behold, like many HBO series and along with the music quickly sets the tone of the piece. I thoroughly enjoyed this pilot episode and recall being suitably excited when the BBC broadcast in Easter 2008 was followed by the announcement of a continuing series. Overall I felt the production was of such high quality that I would not have been surprised to see it in cinemas as Minghella originally envisioned. Ultimately I am happy it aired on the small screen as it means we will be able to enjoy an ongoing series that will be a fitting tribute to Minghella's excellent work.
Having read every single book in this series I was worried how they would approach all the characters because after all if have become wrapped up in their lives - as you cannot fail to do if you love the books as much as I do - you will have your own visualisation as to how they all look and sound. I think that was the first thing that took my breath away - it was Precious - she actually looked and sounded exactly as I had imagined her; given the actress is not only American but also a singer before being an actress - her dialect was perfect as was her stance and costume. There is no doubt that Minghella perfect eye moulded this project and I just hope that whoever comes in to continue will take on board his genius with photography. I mean ... the heat of the desert almost leaps out of every page you read ... and that was the second breathtaking part of the episode ... you could almost feel the heat yourself with every beautiful shot that was filmed. It is probably one of the hardest things to do -- transposing such a popular book to the screen -- and they did not fail -- I honestly do not believe it could have been improved! I am so looking forward to the whole series. It was pure and magical escapism at its best!
This was a great pilot episode! Based on Alexander McCall Smith's novels about a female detective living in Botswana- the tv version I think is even better. The books contain a lot of descriptions about the country and what people's attitudes are like and has very little action in some of them - but the pilot episode is a condensed version of the books and I think it benefits from it.
The lead actress portraying Precious is well cast as are the other supporting characters. And the pictures of the countryside and the towns and the people are just perfect to see. Very well done to all concerned.
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