QUEEN SONO (S1) gets 5.5/10 The South African Le Femme Nikita

Directed by Kagiso Lediga and Tebogo Malope

Starring Pearl Thusi, VuyoDabula, Kate Liquorish, Chi Mhende, Rob van Vuuren
Network: Netflix


Queen Sono follows the titular character (played by Pearl Thusi, ABC’s Quantico) a field operative of the Special Operations Group (South Africa) and daughter of Safiya Sono, a deceased anti-apartheid revolutionary leader and freedom fighter, who tackles criminal operations while dealing with crises in her personal life.

Unlike most spy thrillers, Queen Sono devotes time to historical and geopolitical debate, and features an armed band of terrorists (or freedom fighters) that declare their liberation of Africa from “the clutches of colonisation”. This series is Netflix’s first script-to-screen commission from Africa, as another small step for the production company’s leap into international television. Despite being unremarkable as an action or crime drama, that does not cancel out the excitement of seeing something new.

The writing, and subsequent acting, are a little clunky but improves throughout the series. Queen Sono is predominantly in English, with characters entering various dialects native to South Africa in the middle of conversations (with subtitles appearing to ease the viewing experience). Within the first episode, we discover that the man who assassinated Safiya Sono is being granted leave from prison – as Queen seeks retribution, new evidence redirects her path of revenge.

As a character, Sono comes across too petulant at times, seeming more like a rebellious teenager than a mature field agent from a government outfit. Sono is haunted by the legacy of her mother, which at times outshines her own achievements or weighs down her choices. Queen Sono invites the audience to experience the South African culture that persists despite a dark and violent history, and how certain aspects still continue to this day. The series is a great marriage of history, news, and entertainment – allowing for insight, understanding, and learning to be absorbed through a complex crime-drama series with pockets of humour to alleviate tension.

Queen Sono has potential to be the South African Le Femme Nikita, but the chemistry of the characters and the balance with the personal storylines is a little off keel to adequately pull it off. It was a hard series to weather, predominantly due to pacing and the writing which at times felt rudimentary – but it provides a great foundation for a potentially stronger season two.

The series deals with themes of politics, corruption, racism, and historical atrocities, which may be triggering to some viewers. Stunning production design, and locations, create a rich visual experience, which is amplified by the African soundtrack combining rap and traditional music.

Part of an international acquisition by Netflix, alongside the likes of Ragnarok and South Korea’s Kingdom coming off the success of Parasite in Western cultures, one hopes that Queen Sono can only rise to the market.


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