A coming-of-age story where the hero never comes of age, this historical drama set in colonial Kenya tries to present a stuffy, ponderous story as a classy production.
In Kenya, 1950, a clergyman is murdered when he refuses to support the Kikuyu terrorists who are trying to drive British colonists out of the country. His eldest son, the pre-teen Mwangi (Edwin Mahinda), runs to the nearby colonial authorities, headed by British officer John Graham (Bob Peck).
Graham's efforts to find the killers are met with a wall of silence, even from terrified Mwangi. Being a kindly family man, "Bwana John" accedes to a request by Mwangi's struggling, widowed mother, and hires Mwangi as a houseboy.
While Mwangi is welcomed by the head servant, Mugo (Nicholas Charles), he is less warmly greeted by Graham's haughty wife, Janet (Phyllis Logan), and their Aryan-looking son, Edward (Ronald Pirie). When Edward takes an unknowing Mwangi poaching on a colonialist neighbor's land, the neighbor
captures and tortures Mwangi and leaves him tied to a tree in the woods; Edward, watching from a safe hiding place, simply runs home and says nothing. Graham doesn't know about the boy's absence because he is with his mistress, Mary (Kirsten Hughes), the niece of family friend D.C. (Robert
Urquhart). Mwangi is freed that night by one of the deadly Kikuyu, who recognizes him as "the policeman's toto" and therefore potentially useful to their cause.
Mwangi returns to the servants' quarters, but shortly thereafter he and other servants are abducted by Kikuyu, led by Kamau (Job Seda). They force Mwangi and the others to take a blood oath. Mugo is ordered to behead Graham or die himself. Given a sword, Mugo gets as far as the Grahams' bedroom,
as a mutely horrified Mwangi watches. But the next morning, the Grahams are alive--and Mugo is found hanged. Graham, investigating, again runs into silence and realizes he must weed his squadron of Kikuyu. He barricades his home and has his aide-de-camp, Sergeant Stephen (Leo Wringer), recruit
aboriginal, war-painted Askari tribesmen to replace the Kikuyu. Mwangi reluctantly informs the Kikuyu on the Grahams' whereabouts. With the aid of complicit servants, they invade the Graham home while John is with Mary. Edward, alerted by Mwangi, accidentally shoots and kills his mother while
trying to prevent her abduction by the Kikuyu, who escape with the Graham's infant daughter.
Graham uses the unwitting Mwangi as bait in a trap for the Kikuyu. Although some Kikuyu are killed, Mwangi--evidently as a life-saving maneuver--helps Kamau and others to escape. At the Kikuyu camp, Kamau slices Mwangi's face when he says he knows of no other traps. Mwangi tries to return the baby
to Graham. On his way, he runs into Graham and the squadron combing the forest. Surrounded and frightened, he tries to flee despite Graham's pleas not to move, and is shot dead by the squadron. Although his daughter is safe, Graham is devastated. Text postscripts inform us that two years later a
state of emergency was declared in Kenya; 80 Europeans and 14,000 Africans were killed before Kenya became independent in 1963.
An ambitious, on-location feature debut for British writer-director Harry Hook (who grew up in Kenya), THE KITCHEN TOTO was shot primarily in Kenya's Kakamega Forest. It debuted in Britain in 1987. Maddeningly static, the film is packed with such shots as someone knocking on a door, and then
waiting several seconds until someone opens it. Similarly, a number of scenes open with characters sleeping in darkness, and sleeping, and sleeping, until something happens to wake them up. Hook's script is utterly earnest, his only attempt at leavening humor being a swipe from 1985's THE COLOR
PURPLE, with Mwangi spitting into the sandwich of a sadistic colonial who unknowingly eats it. Hampering storytelling further are the inexpressive Mahinda, needless tangential scenes, and nighttime shots muddily photographed by future Oscar-winner Roger Deakins (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION), who
proved less than proficient at this earlier stage. (Violence, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1987
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: A coming-of-age story where the hero never comes of age, this historical drama set in colonial Kenya tries to present a stuffy, ponderous story as a classy production. In Kenya, 1950, a clergyman is murdered when he refuses to support the Kikuyu terrorist… (more)