Film Critic: Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling
The Forgotten Kingdom is a coming-of-age drama directed by Andrew Mudge and starring Zenzo Ngqobe, Nozipho Nkelemba and Lebohang Ntsane. At times a sweeping epic with mystical undertones, the film tells the story of Atang Mokoenya, a young man who travels to Lesotho to bury his estranged father. Reconnecting with the people from his past, the natural beauty as well as hardships of his ancestral land, Atang finds an unlikely friend and ally.
Set in Lesotho, there’s an unblemished and magical quality to the visuals when Atang sets off on his quest. Surrounded by Lesotho’s rolling hills and earthy harmony, the cinematography immerses audiences in this unspoiled landscape. Much like Lady Grey enhanced the feel of Five Fingers for Marseilles, the same is true for The Forgotten Kingdom as shots of mountains, valleys and waterfalls cascade across the screen. Having a western vibration, one wonders just how much of an influence The Forgotten Kingdom had on one of Africa’s first full-fledged westerns. Moving from a claustrophobic urban slums to the wide open spaces of Lesotho, the visuals capture Atang’s emotional journey as he tries to overcome his disdain for his father.
At the forefront is Atang, whose journey of self-discovery is often tender and thoughtful, enhanced by a sensitive performance from Ngqope. Complex yet relatable, Nqobe peels away the character’s hard shell as he moves from willful anger towards a more complete understanding of who his father really was within the rural community. Nkelemba plays Atang’s childhood friend, Dineo, whose father is eager to see tie the knot with the wealthy well-to-do man from the city. Sharing good screen chemistry that speaks to their history, their relationship adds an uneasy yet entertaining tension. While Nqobe and Nkelemba work well together, it’s young Ntsane whose plucky performance as a spirited Orphan Boy that wins hearts.
The Forgotten Kingdom‘s underlying message unpacks themes relating to family and community, as Atang wrestles with the ghost of his father and tradition. A beautifully filmed and engaging drama, The Forgotten Kingdom has heart and creates a world of wonderful contrasts as Atang rediscovers his roots, finds nostalgia and rekindles old relationships.
The Forgotten Kingdom is spirited thanks to a handful of solid performances, compelled by the lead’s heartfelt reawakening, set against an epic landscape, infused with a mythical quality and swathed in rich natural visuals. As grand as it can be with the undertones of a fable, or legend even, the pacing is generally slow and the tone is uneven at times. While this slowed down approach makes it a bit more lifelike and lived cinematic experience, the film is at its best when Atang joins forces with the young herd boy. Teetering between docudrama and fantasy at one point, as if Atang were confronting his younger self, this strange tension works surprisingly well as one tries to separate real from unreal.
This South African drama is gentle in its approach, uplifting in its emotional journey and amusing when it comes to the charming buddy movie chemistry between Ngqobe and Ntsane. Channeling a number of timely themes and landing some heartwarming moments, it’s a well-made, entertaining and even soulful film from writer-director, Andrew Mudge.
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