A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA relates the sexual and political misadventures of a jaded English consular officer in modern Africa. Like William Boyd's source novel, which attempted a mild satire of British post-colonial foreign relations, the film is brought down by stereotypical characters and a
curiously dated view of Africa.
In the newly independent West African nation of Kinjanja, Morgan Leafy (Colin Friels), First Secretary to the British High Commissioner, spends his time drinking, having love affairs, and trying to keep out of local politics as much as possible. The pompous high commissioner, Arthur Fanshawe
(John Lithgow), orders Morgan to curry favor with presidential candidate Sam Adekunle (Louis Gossett, Jr.) in order to secure the British rights to Kinjanja's offshore oil reserves. When Fanshawe's African maid Innocence (Lillian Dube) is struck dead by a bolt of lightning outside the residence,
her relatives insist that the corpse be left undisturbed so as not to anger Shango, God of the Sky. In order to have the body removed, the family claims it needs to pay 200 pounds to a local fetish doctor. Fanshawe refuses to pay and orders Morgan to resolve the problem.
While Adekunle is away in London considering British overtures, Morgan spends a night with the candidate's British wife Celia (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer). Adekunle finds out and threatens to have Morgan killed unless he persuades a recalcitrant member of the Government Board to support the expansion
of the local university--a project that will net Adekunle millions of pounds. The board member happens to be stubborn Scotsman Dr. Alex Murray (Sean Connery), who runs the local clinic and holds a dim view of both Adekunle and the English. Adekunle is elected president, but his victory party at
the British residence is disrupted by an anti-imperialist rally screaming for Fanshawe's blood. Morgan impersonates Fanshawe and flees the residence in a bid to divert the demonstrators. The angry mob gives chase until government troops arrive to ward off the demonstrators.
On the way back to town, Morgan comes upon an accident in which Dr. Murray has been mortally injured. Having come so close to death himself, Morgan vows to push through Murray's veto of the university expansion. The next day, he personally pays for the fetish doctor to perform the rites to
remove Innocence's body.
If Bertie Wooster had been plucked from his London townhouse and dropped into one of Graham Greene's colonial novels, the result might have been something like this story--providing that Wodehouse's wit and Greene's narrative mastery had first been thoroughly expunged. William Boyd's novel
reflects--and, to some extent, satirizes--a worldview common among British foreign service types some thirty years ago, when emerging African nations were routinely mocked and African cultures were still viewed with a combination of curiosity and condescension. While Boyd's supercilious take on
post-colonial Africa is irritating enough in its proper context, the film, which is set in the present day but in no sense updated, is unforgivable. Presented without evident irony, the exploits of an English consular officer, who rather proudly describes himself as "rude, sulking, bullying,
selfish, unpleasant, hypocritical, cowardly and conceited," are less than amusing at a time when African nations are undergoing severe economic turmoil and brutal internal strife, and AIDS is literally decimating the continent.
All of the characters are stereotypes, from the shallow, opportunistic Morgan to the myopic, stiff-upper-lipped high commissioner, to the "good man" of the title, Dr. Murray, the film's moral center, the great white humanitarian who works selflessly to help the people of Africa. The only
significant African character is corrupt local strongman Adekunle, who is played without any nuance by American star Gossett. All the other African characters, although played by African actors, are servile and superstitious.
The film puts all its hopes on Morgan's last-minute moral conversion as he reacts with frustration to Dr. Murray's impending death and vows to turn over a new leaf. Nothing in the character's behavior, as performed colorlessly by Colin Friels, leads the viewer to swallow this for a moment. And
his offer of money to the dead servant's family is a resoundingly hollow, patronizing gesture. The end credits give no indication where the film was shot, although the 1993 copyright is held by South African Breweries Ltd. (Profanity, sexual situations)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA relates the sexual and political misadventures of a jaded English consular officer in modern Africa. Like William Boyd's source novel, which attempted a mild satire of British post-colonial foreign relations, the film is brought down b… (more)