Incredible True Story of Inventor Teen Detailed in ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’
For his feature directorial debut, Nigerian English actor Chiwetel Ejiofor takes on the remarkable true story of a William Kamkwamba (Maxwell Simba), a young teen from Malawi whose determination and innovation single-handedly saves his famine-stricken village. In the Netflix original “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” Ejiofor plays Trywell, William’s farmer father who, alongside his loving wife Agnes (Aïssa Maïga), struggles to provide for his family, which also includes his older daughter Annie (Lily Banda) and a baby. A variety of factors, including a corrupt government, make it difficult for the Kamkwamba and those around them to make ends meet. Having crooked people in positions of power also means that there are no public schools, and those families who can’t pay a fee see their children kicked out of the classroom, which is what happens to William. Annie, meanwhile, is forced to wait around at home until her parents can afford to send her to university.
For most 13-year-olds, being out of school for too long could lead to trouble. However, being gifted and extraordinarily self-directed, William decides to spend his free time in the school library, reading about energy. He also studies science with one of his former teachers, Mike Kachigunda (Lemogang Tsipa), who bends the rules due to his secret relationship with Annie. Soon, William figures out how to use solar power to fix things, starting with a stereo. He next sets out to fix a broken pump, a feat that could save his family and the whole village, but he first needs Trywell to hand over a bike so he can use the parts to make a windmill.
The most impactful scenes in “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” are the ones in which Ejiofor is front and center. The story of the Kamkwamba family is universal, as Trywell and Agnes want what all parents want for their children, which is for them to have more advantages in life than they did. However, Trywell feels torn when it becomes apparent that his more educated son may know better than him, leading to some compelling scenes. Ejiofor is in top form here as Trywell navigates one crisis after another, and young Simba holds his own.
The backdrop of the turbulent political climate and economy also offers something of a lesson on the circumstances that lead to unrest in a developing country like Malawi. British actor Joseph Marcell, who is best known in the United States for his role in the sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” pops up here in a small but powerful role as the local chief (and the father of William’s best friend) who pays dearly for speaking up against the corrupt government.
“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” premieres March 1 on Netflix.