The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind review: Chiwetel Ejiofor makes his feature directing debut with this charming, true story set in Malawi in southeast Africa.
Based on the book by Bryan Mealer and William Kamkwamba, who the story revolves around, Ejiofor’s film – which is releasing directly on to Netflix – is ambitious, big and, although its literal title gives the ending away in just six words, totally appealing and engrossing throughout.
The story is structured into key parts, all revolving around the farming process over the course of a year. Ejiofor, as well as writing and directing, is also amongst the as head of the Kamkwamba family, Trywell. He has a wife and three children, and despite having a very small income – mostly coming from the crops they harvest – he wants and does the best for his family. That includes sending his middle child William (Maxwell Simba) to the local school for a good education. However, during this particular year the crops haven’t grown, so supplies and money are more limited. William cannot go to school because he can’t afford the fees but manages to sneak in after discovering a secret that connects his older sister to a teacher.
As the title alludes to, the film is essentially the journey of how William becomes the boy who uses resources to create electricity from a home-made turbine. This can then be connected to a water pump that can provide them with enough water to farm all year round – thus ending a famine which is starting to kill the villagers who are dying of hunger. William obviously has a flare for electronics and engineering, and we witness his ability to reassemble old radios early on the film – much to the delight of his fellow villagers. All of this purely by reading books and adapting current technology, his quest for power largely involving a dynamo from one of his teacher’s push-bikes.
It’s all quite involving stuff and Ejiofor has delivered a very solid, ambitious debut movie. He’s also assembled a creative team all at the top of heir game. Dick Pop, the cinematographer that has delivered stunning work of late with the likes of Mr. Turner, Legend and last year’s Peterloo, does the same here, his sweeping vistas of Africa absolutely spectacular. Simba is the acting standout as William, and the young boy clearly has a huge future ahead of him. He’s in nearly every frame, full of flair and confidence – he’s a massive joy to watch.
It one of those films that starts off slow, really taking its time to get the story going, and despite having a relatively short running time of just under two hours, does plod in the middle section. That said, William’s tale is so inspirational, by the time the credits roll, you walk away feeling so much better than when the film started.
An exceptional debut from a clearly talented filmmaker who has found a new voice. As first film go, they don’t get much better than this.
The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind review by Paul Heath, Berlinale 2019.