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Flame Trees of Thika, The (1981)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Episode 1: The Promised Land, originally transmitted on ITV, 1 September 1981

Kenya, 1913. Tilly Grant, with her young daughter Elspeth, arrives in Kenya and travels to meet her husband Robin at their newly bought farm, which they hope to establish as a coffee plantation. As they get nearer to the farm, their cook Juma warns that they are entering the land of cannibals, that the natives are not to be trusted, and that their future crops will fail because the land is cursed. Tilly tries to calm Elspeth's worries.

They meet up with Robin in Thika. Tilly quickly realises that the land they have been sold is of poor quality, and that Robin, not for the first time, has been gullible in his business dealings. But she resolves to make the best of it. They urgently need to build a farmhouse, but are unsure how to attract the natives to help them do so. Initially they try playing music, and then, with the advice of the local Boer farmer Mr Roos they set a safari light going. This attracts the natives, but Robin inadvertently scares them off with the flames.

The next day the natives return and events seem to have taken a threatening turn. Fortunately, one of the natives reveals he has worked with Europeans before and they all start work on the house. Finally the native women finish off the roof, and the lead native, Njombo, agrees to stay and work for the couple.

The next day the family are interrupted by a native woman who has brought her badly sunburnt baby to them for treatment. They don't have any medical supplies, but Njombo goes to find the medicine lady. The medicine lady is not a witch doctor, but a Scottish woman named Mrs Nimmo. She treats the baby, and tells Tilly that she will have to get used to the savagery of Africa. Mrs Nimmo's husband is a hunter who spends most of his time hunting in the Congo.

After a few days Robin and Tilly have made some progress, and Tilly has even bred some chicks. However, she soon finds that insects brought by the coming rain have killed the chicks. The rain pours through the leaks in the roof, and Robin tries to stop their furniture being ruined by the water. Tilly reacts badly and gets angry about her surroundings and the lack of company. A worried Elspeth looks on.