The Queenstown Kings 2023 Movie Review
If one is inclined towards making a sports film, one can take various paths. There is the route of the ‘dysfunctional team,’ then there is the route of ‘individual glory’; some have also taken the ‘nationalistic honor’ route in the film as well. The Queenstown Kings, the new film by Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, mixes almost everything available in its attempt to turn out a good sports drama. There is a theme of fatherhood in the film, but more importantly, it’s the unifying power of a sport that is depicted with a light, humorous tone. What’s good about this film is that it has thoroughly fleshed-out characters, and they are nicely superimposed on the template of the sports drama.
The story is fairly straightforward, though the film begins on a very complex note. Malusi Mahamba, the legendary footballer, died while mentoring the local soccer team. News travelled, and his famous footballer son Buyile had to stop living his luxurious life and return to his hometown for the funeral. The actual story begins with his return when he has to face his 18-year-old son, Fezile. He had abandoned his family while his ex-wife was pregnant, and only now has he returned. The palpable sob stories and the melodrama seem to be waiting to burst out of this premise, but the story pivots towards soccer, Fezile’s dream to get out of his hometown, and his relationship with both his father Buyile and stepfather Fana. Once the characters are set firmly and the universe of the film starts to be explored, the film suddenly becomes humorous, as if all the trauma has evaporated.
It appeared as though the film had a desire to be an intense sports drama, with the family aspects of the story added only to further add to the stakes of the story, but ultimately the film was about the place in Queensland, South Africa, where a few dreamers came together to achieve the impossible. It’s an aspirational story in a way. If making a complex family drama had been the goal, then there would have been a clear arc as to how Fezile accepted Buyile as his father. The emotional spine of the film is somehow crooked and accommodates many other aspects. It’s not a criticism, as the various subplots about Buyile and Fana’s banter radiated most of the humor, but too many distractions ultimately robbed the film of its hard-hitting tone. The film was interested in the Queenstown village and showed the problems: the drugs, the poverty, the unemployment, and the crime. But the film always managed to tie it to the film’s character and make it humorous. There is a football match that ends with a player drawing a gun and making Fezile’s team run for cover. This humorous shootout and a couple of knifepoint robbery attempts were nicely shaped with a solemn culmination, but they never affected the plot.
The theme of fatherhood was explored pretty well. Buyile missed Malusi’s funeral, but later had a moment with him after he got to visit his grave. Fana had tried to raise Fezile and tried to be a role model for him, but there were obvious rifts. The surprising part of the film is the way it treats its female characters. They do very little in the story, and sometimes they are in scenes only for comic effect. Boity is shown to be a diva, self-obsessed to the core, and Xoliswa, Fezile’s mother, takes away Fana’s gun, and hilarity ensues when Fana doesn’t find his gun in a critical moment. I have no issues with the comical portions of the film, but they served mostly as a distraction. The great thing, however, was that the film evoked the feeling that family was the unit where one could be forgiven. Maybe that’s what a family is. Buyile is one of the most irresponsible characters I have seen in recent times; he drinks and drives, dabbles in drugs, misses his father’s funeral, gets removed from his football club, and pesters the responsible Fana, but he is given a chance, again and again, to get better. The world outside is brutal. It holds you accountable and punishes you, most times without compassion, but it’s family where one gets to recalibrate and rebuild after having received forgiveness.
The story was about the legacy of the Mahamba family as well. Malusi was such a legend that when he passed away, footballers and dignitaries flew from all over the world to pay their respects. Buyile had made a mark in club football and had become rich, and now it was up to Fezile to carry forward that legacy. But this arc wasn’t given its conclusion. Perhaps a sequel is on its way. But considering the movie as a single piece, the ending was a bit underwhelming, considering I had been along for the ride for the final match that Fezile’s ‘Queenstown Kings’ were going to play against the Sundowns. The film almost says that Fezile had already ‘won’ in life because he made the right decisions, and the Nedbank Cup was just an excuse to play football at a higher level. But as a viewer, I wanted to see the team as a great unit, a theme that had been explored earlier. Fezile was a great footballer, but could he lift all the other players to play their perfect game? Perhaps the film didn’t want to take that route, as other films such as Invictus have portrayed that dynamic. The Queenstown Kings is an ambitious sports drama wrapped in the foil of a family drama. Shooting soccer games with all the passes and goals is never easy, but the makers could have focused a bit more to have clear and vivid shots of the people playing the game. Apart from that, the performances are relatable; the catchy background score and the needle drops make The Queenstown Kings a watchable experience.