Netflix UK film review: Lionheart
James R | On 08, Feb 2020
Director: Genevieve Nnaji
Cast: Genevieve Nnaji, Nkem Owoh, Pete Edochie, Onyeka Onwenu
Watch Lionheart online in the UK: Netflix UK
“The biggest legacy I will leave is you, my daughter.” That’s Chief Ernest Obiagu (Pete Edochie) to his daughter, Adaeze (Genevieve Nnaji). So when Ernest has a heart attack that puts him out of action, who does he leave his public transport empire too? No, not Adaeze, but his brother, Godswill (Nkem Owoh).
That’s the starting point for Lionheart, Netflix’s first Nigerian original film. It’s a surprise that outweighs the contrived set-up with the sheer indignation we feel on Adaeze’s behalf. From the opening frames, it’s clear that she’s not only a competent businesswoman but a talented one, encouraging those around her, organising things down to the smallest detail and already coming up with plans to help revive the ailing company. She’s the future, if only the present can stop looking at the past long enough to see it.
Her uncle, meanwhile, is an old-fashioned figure who has his own thoughts on how to steer the company into profit, and watching the two clash is one of the primary joys of Lionheart: Owoh provides strong comic relief, offsetting Adaeze’s more earnest presence.
But nobody is quite what they seem, with Genevieve Nnaji and Chinny Onwugbenu’s script not only highlighting Adaeze’s underappreciated skills but also finding time to delve deeper into both Ernest and Godswill’s motivations and loyalties. It’s an approach that’s entirely rooted in the character of our hero, who is stifled and frustrated by the patriarchal system around her, yet also respects the company, its system and its heritage – a contradiction that the film doesn’t see as a problem but, refreshingly, embraces with understanding.
Genevieve Nnaji, meanwhile, is undergoing a similar journey herself. A huge star of Nollywood, she steps behind the camera for this, her directorial debut, while also co-writing the script – a triple threat that announces her as a talent who deserves global reach. As well as handling non-professional cast members such as Peter Okoye as Adaeze’s unexpectedly thoughtful father, Nnaji brings a light comic ouch and an infectious determination to the screen. That becomes crucial when the second half of the movie unfolds, introducing an urgent problem that needs to be solved.
Counting down to its final resolution with pleasingly small stakes, the result is a personal tale of family business that places an emphasis on family. It’s a likeable, upbeat, empowering story about a woman who pushes her way to respect and success in a male-dominated world. With Nnaji joining the frustratingly small ranks of women directors working in the business today, that trailblazing positivity resonates off-screen as well as on. The film was submitted by Nigeria for the 2020 Oscars, only to be disqualified because it features too much English dialogue (some of the characters and their exchanges are in Igbo). It’s the kind of technicality that wouldn’t stop Adaeze, and likewise shouldn’t stop families around the world seeking out Genevieve Nnaji and her inspiring work. All that wrapped up in under 90 minutes? Now that’s a legacy worth leaving.
Lionheart is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.