Netflix’s ‘Queen Sono’ Review: A low-action spy thriller with high entertainment value
The network’s first South African original might not feel as speedy as the trailer promises but manages to hold strong grounds on several visual and cinematic elements. Here are our two cents on the first project that explores the African nation’s entertainment values.
This review DOES NOT contain spoilers!
People thrive on stereotypes - of culture, of people, and of countries. How many times have you thought of safaris or wilderness, or colorful folk singers, whenever you have imagined any country in Africa? But have you ever tried to visualize its progressive nations, metropolises, urban art and entertainment? We bet you haven’t, just like millions of people around the world.
And then a streaming service like Netflix goes out there, taps into the incredible entertainment potential of one of the largest and most developed countries of Africa and brings it right at your doorstep! Probably, that’s how Netflix’s ‘Queen Sono’ was born. The network proudly presented its first-ever South African original series to the world and invited people to see what they have been missing - an insight into what art and entertainment look like on this side of the globe.
Nearly six hours and six episodes later, we (this writer included) found ourselves pleasantly surprised to discover that ‘Queen Sono’ could very comfortably become the next best spy-thriller on Netflix. If you are unaware of what this show is all about, it’s quite simple, to be honest. A covert operative on her mission to uncover international conspiracy unearths dirty secrets about her government and fights tooth and nail to seek justice for her country and her people.
The show opens in Zanzibar, with shots of its famous shoreline, making you want to pack your bags and head out for a vacation right away! But the very next moment, you see Pearl Thusi, disguised as a tourist, chasing her target and causing mayhem in a restaurant. This, however, is just the start of what turns into a virtual tour of some of the most prominent locales across South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and 30 such places across the continent.
So, if one has to talk about the cinematography and the overall production value of the series, it’s as good as it gets, considering it would not be on a budget of a leading Hollywood production. Some of the camera frames and angles are truly incredible!
Moving on to the performance of the cast members, Pearl Thusi does stand out in her titular role.
Queen Sono is a badass, tough field agent of the Special Operatives Group of the South African government, and who is assigned on covert missions, while she also has to deal with her challenges and inner demons. Sounds very Jason Bourne or James Bond-ish, doesn’t it? Yes, it does, but that exactly is the idea here. You might think for a minute that the character is almost like a female Bond, albeit rooted in South African society.
Believe it or not, that’s exactly what makes this more interesting. As the trailer defines her, she is “fierce, defiant, and deadly”. Her boss calls her “reckless”, and yet she believes that Queen “gets things done”. But she is also a daughter, a lover, and a friend who is only trying to protect her country while seeking justice for her mother’s assassination.
Driving the story in the lead character of Queen is Pearl Thusi, a name that would remind you of ‘Quantico’. You would imagine that African society would be too dated to show women in the kind of light that we on this side of the world are used to seeing. And then this series surprises you - not just with Queen’s character, but also with that of others around her.
Now for the moment of truth about how some elements of ‘Queen Sono’ could come across as a letdown. For starters, the screenplay uses almost five to seven different languages including English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, Tsonga, Swahili, isiXhosa, Russian, and French, with some of them without any English subtitles to help the uninitiated. That makes you miss out on certain sentiments of the dialogues, especially if there is anything culturally significant and relevant or a local pop culture reference that non-natives might not understand. Then, there are quite a few segments of the story which feel redundant, making the plot staggering and slow burn until the end. The graph of the story almost goes a sharp upward and downward curve in almost every episode and that could be a deterrent to the overall viewing experience.
To summarize, ‘Queen Sono’ delivers the necessary ingredients that make for an entertaining watch. There’s ample action, drama, terrorism, corruption, socio-political issues, government secrets, and retribution, making it worthwhile. It might not keep you on the edge of your seat but it is just about right for an easy weekend watch and exploring the modern cultural tapestry and cinematic aesthetics of Africa. We believe, this is just the start of tapping into the vast and endless potential of South African filmmaking and ‘Queen Sono’ could put the country on the global map of arts and entertainment.
Catch all six episodes of ‘Queen Sono’, currently streaming on Netflix.