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Movie Review: Leading Lady


Leading Lady is the latest film from up-and-coming South African director, Henk Pretorius. His previous film, Fanie Fourie's Lobola, demonstrated his ability to create a surprisingly touching, funny, street smart and distinctly South African romantic comedy. While it's another opposites attract "romcom"... he's broadened the scope by turning Leading Lady into a film with more international appeal.

We journey with Jodi (McGrath), an idealistic British school teacher and aspiring actress, who finds herself in South Africa on a mission to prepare for a lead role in an upcoming Afrikaans war drama epic. Upon arrival, Jodi meets Kobus (van Blerk), a cynical South African farmer, who forgoes his better judgement to assist her in exchange for her help with the town's annual concert.

Leading Lady's leading lady is Katie McGrath, an up-and-coming actress, who also stars in Jurassic World. With a countenance that falls somewhere between Jennifer Connelly and Kate Winslet, she holds an icy beauty, which works quite well for her character. As with all modern day fairy tales, her ice princess looks melt away as we discover a warm, vulnerable and attractive down-to-earth character in Jodi.

She stars opposite the enigmatic Bok van Blerk, who while stubbornly set in his ways, finds a damsel-in-distress worth rescuing in addition to his family farm. McGrath and van Blerk have a sweet chemistry and it's a pleasure watching them interact as their worlds collide. McGrath is great at essentially playing an "ugly duckling" and van Blerk's understated closed door performance helps emphasise their smouldering relational dynamic.

"Ground control to Major Tom... commencing countdown."

They're supported by Gil Bellows as big shot director, Daniel Taylor, in an emphatic, larger-than-life performance. His key role helps set the journey in motion, while injecting some energy and international flair. Brümilda van Rensburg adds her experience to the ensemble, playing a rather eccentric and amusing small town widow with peculiar taste. The ensemble is bolstered by André Stolz, Eduan van Jaarsveldt, Craig Palm and Mary Twala, who each make great comedy counterpoints.

While Leading Lady starts off slowly as we narrow the focus from Big Ben in London to a small South Africa farm, things only really begin to take off as we start to warm to the hard-shelled characters. While their exteriors take a while to soften, the visual contrasts of the culture shock and the ensuing fish-out-of-water comedy help keep us entertained.

While not an entirely original concept, Henk Pretorius and Tina Kruger's script crackles with life and a quirky sense of humour. Leading Lady has an earthy freshness, standing on "romcom" genre conventions without being swallowed by them. We're slowly drawn into the story, continually amused by the interplay of the locals as we warm to the co-leads.

There are one or two questions surrounding "area code" policy, however the effects aren't distracting enough to derail the film. While there are plenty of amusing and quirky "small town" chuckles, you're almost taken by surprise at how emotionally connected to the characters you've become, with one particularly powerful moment involving Brümilda van Rensburg.

Leading Lady is a captivating and compelling romantic comedy and passion project from Henk Pretorius. From cast to crew, there's an understanding and love for the characters and film, presenting a pleasing story with heart, humour and intrinsic entertainment value. Ultimately, solid performances, steady direction, artful cinematography and a typical-yet-not-so-typical "romcom" script drive an enjoyable and satisfying film.

The bottom line: Enjoyable