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“The Lions of Buganda” Review: Jerry Sesanga’s Historical Picture Glides at a Glacial Pace Towards Nowhere

“The Lions of Buganda” Review: Jerry Sesanga’s Historical Picture Glides at a Glacial Pace Towards Nowhere

The Lions of Buganda

Beyond its visual conceit, The Lions of Buganda does not have much going for it.

By Victory Hayzard Solum

The year is 1674. Ailing King Kateregga of Buganda (John Kafeero), summons his mother (Sarah Kisuazi) and his Prime Minister (Yasin Lubowa), to name his son, Prince Mutebi (Kananura Foustine), as his heir and successor. But the King has several other sons, and despite outward appearances, there is little love lost between them.

As soon as the King dies, the Prime Minister and his friends throw the weight of their support around Prince Lumansi (Andrew Ssemwanga), the most likely to yield to their influence. And thus, brother is set against brother, as Lumansi goes on a bloodthirsty rampage against his kin, while Mutebi goes on the run for his life. This is the gripping premise of Jerry Sesanga’s historical feature, The Lions of Buganda.

The film had its premiere at the Uganda Film Festival on June 7, 2024, where it clinched the awards for Best Make-Up, Best Costume Design, and Best Indigenous Film. It is hard to miss the seriousness of the undertaking in the production of the film, which has been thus rewarded. The visuals, for instance, are rather remarkable for having much of the sets, locations, and wildlife computer-generated in 3D. This effect immerses viewers in an era distinctly unmodern.

It may, however, be difficult to talk about The Lions of Buganda, without noting its abject lack of urgency. The acting performances are quite sedate, and the pacing never really picks up. Perhaps, this may be attributed to the computer-generated environment, as previously mentioned. The unnaturalness of having to interact with a green screen is highlighted by the acting, which consists of standing and talking in a particular pose in repeated scenes for much of the film. Perhaps, more dynamic photography could have alleviated this issue. Or perhaps not.

The Lions of Buganda
The Lions of Buganda

Beyond its visual conceit, The Lions of Buganda does not have much going for it. There are hints of a possible legend inspiring the story, but besides the brief outlines of its original telling, the plot does not come off as one that has been adequately fleshed out. Plot points can be seen from miles away, and what little narrative comes in between is paper thin. Sesanga’s film is at its worst when it comes to dialogue.

If anything more than action should add vibrancy to a narrative, it is the dialogue and the manner of speech employed by different characters. When it comes to The Lions of Buganda there is no imagination on hand anywhere in its dialogue.

Characters say the most obvious things, which, rather than fleshing them out as complex beings, serve only to highlight their stereotypical origins without even daring to be camp or cartoonish. Sesanga’s movie serves up a bunch of characters who are representative of only the most spiritless and boring portions of any human collective.

Two actors alone have anything resembling verve in this tale of absolute drabness. One of them, Gift Byamugisha, who plays Nalumiya, the love interest to Foustine’s Prince Mutebi, and shines in every scene, especially in pairings with characters other than his. The other is Latankome Christopher who plays Mutebi’s brother born of his mother, Prince Junju.

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He has a limited number of appearances, and whatever warmth or colour he brings is fleeting. None of this is to say that the lead actor, Foustine, puts up a spectacularly poor performance. He does seem taken up with the spirit of things, but that spirit just happens to be pallid and rather insubstantial.

The Lions of Buganda
Jerry Sesanga’s The Lions of Buganda

One could go on a long rant about all the things that are wrong with The Lions of Buganda, but that would be to expend far more energy than the film inspires. It achieves its probable aim of bringing innovation to African cinema, particularly in terms of the possibilities offered by digital technology in film production. Content to note that Sesanga’s film has found its applause in more considerate sectors, perhaps one can finally look away and never once have to muster the memory up again.

Rating: 1.3/5

(The Lions of Buganda is currently streaming on Showmax)

Victory Hayzard Solum is a freelance writer with an irrepressible passion for the cinematic arts. Here he explores the sights, sounds, and magic of the shadow-making medium and their enrichment of the human experience. A longstanding ghostwriter, he may have authored the last bestselling novel you read.

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