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Simba (1955)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Simba (1955)
35mm, colour, 99 mins
DirectorBrian Desmond Hurst
Production CompanyGroup Film Productions
ProducerPeter De Sarigny
ScriptJohn Baines
Original storyAnthony Perry
PhotographyGeoffrey Unsworth
MusicFrancis Chagrin

Joseph Tomelty (Dr. Hughes); Dirk Bogarde (Howard); Donald Sinden (Drummond); Virginia McKenna (Mary); Basil Sydney (Mr. Crawford); Earl Cameron (Karanja)

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Love story set amidst the Mau Mau's uprisings in Kenya.

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Simba (d. Brian Desmond Hurst, 1955) is a sensationalist portrayal of the Mau Mau uprisings in Kenya between 1950 and 1956, and although the drama is sufficiently tense and violent, the film as a whole delivers an incoherent picture of this important period of Kenyan history. From the start, the viewer is left in no doubt about the way in which what transpires should be judged.

The film begins with a brutal machete murder of a middle-aged white man, and this inescapable impression of senseless brutality continues throughout. The blade of the machete is about as eloquent as the Mau Mau in articulating their cause. What is not explained here is that the Mau Mau, although brutal in their methods, were an all but disowned, breakaway wing of the main political party in Kenya, the Kenyan African Union (KAU), whose president, Jomo Kenyatta, was imprisoned by the British in 1953. This was particularly unfortunate since Kenyatta, who campaigned for independence through non-violent means, was the one man who may have been able to stop the violence.

In this tense, polarised atmosphere, Howard (Dirk Bogarde), makes his way to Kenya. Howard has no love for Kenya and is drawn more in hope of a favourable reunion with Mary (Virginia McKenna), than the prospect of settling on his brother's farm. His brother's murder only increases his hostility to the country and Africans in general, and he soon displays all the arrogance and surliness that precipitated and sustained much of the upsurge in violence and hatred.

Earl Cameron gives a powerful performance as Dr Karanja, who attracts Howard's special hatred as a perceived rival for Mary's affection but, at the same time, represents what many at the time would consider the acceptable voice of the colonised. The character of Karanja enables Cameron to subvert the prevailing image of the African as savage and incapable of learning, even though, overall, the prevailing images of the film conspire to define the African as precisely that. Cameron's performance not only transcends this but also by eloquently rebutting Howard's slights on his character and the character of his people, he is also able to rise above the cliché of 'the noble savage'. Though he finally sacrifices his own life for those of his white friends, Karanja postulates a vision of an independent Kenya that Kenyatta himself might have appreciated.

Carl Daniels

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Video Clips
1. The identification (3:08)
2. Howard and Karanja (3:29)
3. Bad news travels (5:22)
Original Poster
Lobby cards
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
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Ackland, Noreen (1921-)
Bogarde, Dirk (1921-1999)
Cameron, Earl (1917- )
John, Errol (1924-1988)
Sinden, Sir Donald (1923-)
Unsworth, Geoffrey (1914-1978)
British African Stories
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