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29 October 2014
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The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Behind the scenes of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency



Anthony Minghella's introduction


Producer Amy J Moore says that on the eve of the millennium, "a friend gave me a novel set in Botswana by a Scottish writer who was obscure at the time. I was struck by this absolute fable. That leading a good life is possible; that being a good person is possible; that being a good neighbour is possible; that truth can exist alongside beauty. I thought, this African book can teach the Western world a lot."

 

Anthony Minghella adds: "I was enchanted by the character of Precious Ramotswe and the sly humour of Alexander McCall Smith's writing, his deft evocation of a culture."

 

On 11 September of the next year the whole world changed after the bombing of the World Trade Centre. Strangely enough, a new set of global priorities saw the book's popularity grow and grow.

 

Alexander McCall Smith believed that the tale of Mma Ramotswe's common sense and natural optimism touched a nerve at the time because suddenly people "were faced with the prospect of 'long-term conflict and harsh antipathy', they were and still are searching for 'a lost Eden' of innocence and moral certainties."

 

After visiting Botswana and falling in love with the place in 2004, Anthony decided on celebrated comic screenwriter Richard Curtis as a collaborator.

 

"I have never set out to make a comedy before and this is also the first time I've collaborated with another writer on a film," says Anthony.

 

"I consciously made the decision to work with him to make sure that I didn't drift into a way of looking at the world which is essentially glum, because I go there very quickly. I go to sorrow, pain and tragedy instinctively, so it is lovely for me on this film to encourage myself and those around me to find a tone that is playful and big-hearted."

 

Obviously the humanity and optimism is an in-bred part of the book's charm but Anthony is very expansive in his credit for co-author Richard Curtis.

 

"I knew that he was the ideal person to help adapt the script. Richard was one of the founders of Comic Relief so he already has been involved in an incredible venture to help in Africa. But also, he has this incredible investment in decency. He is a very optimistic person, so he was the perfect choice to help fashion the upbeat tone of Mma Ramotswe's story."

 

Anthony firmly believes that part of the film's mission, if it has one, is to spread a positive message: "Those of us who do not come from the continent have managed to create a great deal of literature about Africa which says what's wrong with it. What is so fantastic about this material and why I was always so drawn to the books is that they are a celebration of what we might learn from Africa.

 

"The West is a mess; we are a neurotic society, self-absorbed, solipsistic, and greedy. We compete too much with each other and have no community. Look at Botswana and its dignity, friendliness and big-heartedness and the core of this itself is the reliance on community, debate and discussion."

 

Timothy Bricknell says Richard Curtis was the perfect match for Anthony: "They teamed up and worked together, but never in the same room; Anthony would write a few scenes and send them to Richard, and then he would make changes or add another scene."

 

In the early stages of research about life in Botswana they read a lot of books by other writers to cross-reference their take on the book to make sure they weren't telling a one-sided story.

 

"In the end the adaptation is very faithful to the novel – the main change is that it is set in a more contemporary world than the novel," says Timothy.

 

"Mma Ramotswe is an incredibly independent, beautiful woman who is holding on to a set of values that are very much a part of Botswana culture. But those values are now beginning to lose their cadence in the contemporary urban world of Gaborone, so she does seem old-fashioned to a lot of the other characters.

 

"However Richard and Anthony didn't want her to seem like an old fashioned character to the audience, so she may appear younger, more complex and more sexually alive with a slight streak of darkness in the film, which isn't necessarily the case in the book."

 

The script and production incorporated other areas of the country into the story.

 

"We have filmed in locations all around Gaborone, the surrounding villages and in the north in the Makgadikgadi Pans and the Okavango Delta," says Timothy.

 

"We felt when we first came to Gaborone it felt like a slightly sleepy, fairly generic city which could almost be anywhere in the world. Once we had left the city and saw the country at large and how varied and beautiful it is, it became very important us to spread the reach of the film outside Gaborone."

 


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