Not too long ago, there was an outcry in the media and public when it was reported that a film about Dr Richard Leakey would be filmed in South Africa.
While Dr Leakey’s film is yet to be produced, Kenya has lost another important historical story, and with it hundreds of millions of shillings in production revenue, to South Africa.
At the beginning of November, The Crown, a television show about the life and ascent to the throne of Queen Elizabeth II, premiered on streaming site Netflix to critical acclaim.
The television show, which comprises 10 episodes, could easily be the most expensive television show ever produced owing to its estimated budget of over Sh12 billion. Anyone familiar with history will tell you that the story of Queen Elizabeth II is not complete without including the role that Kenya plays. In February 1952, an ailing King George V asked his daughter and heir apparent to represent him on a Commonwealth tour. The first stop of the tour that was to comprise, among other places, Australia and New Zealand, was Kenya.
The 25-year-old princess and her husband, The Duke of Edinburgh, arrived in Nairobi and, after a brief tour of the capital, embarked on a safari to the town of Nyeri and on to the Aberdare Ranges where they stayed at the Treetops Lodge to watch wild animals. While there, King Gorge V died in his sleep.
What happened next is, perhaps, best explained by Jim Corbertt, a famous hunter and the princess’ bodyguard at the time: “For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a princess and, after having what she described as her most thrilling experience, she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen.”
On the show The Crown, this Kenyan part of the story is well and dramatically captured. The plane carrying the princess lands in Nairobi as young African boys chase ostriches from the runway. The young princess gives a speech on behalf of the King and is introduced to the Kenyan tribal chiefs even as her husband, the Duke, who was reluctant to come, mistakes their crowns for hats and makes a few offensive jokes that are lost on the hosts.
The couple then proceeds to Tree House Lodge in cars bearing Kenyan number plates and just before they ascend into the tree house, they have an encounter with an elephant. Later in the night, a Swahili speaking servant lights a nearby watering hole so that the royal couple can watch the animals drinking.
SCENES WELL SET UP
The scenes are well set up and the attention to detail is impressive and fascinating. There is only one problem; all of this is filmed not in Kenya but Cape Town, South Africa.
The reasons the producers opted to film the Kenyan scenes, the only ones on the entire season that are outside of the UK, in South Africa are understandable. South Africa offers a tax rebate of 35 percent on spends of up to the equivalent of Sh43 million and 25 percent for spends past that mark.
Going by the total budget of Sh12 billion that was spent on 10 episodes of The Crown and seeing that most of episode 2 was the Kenyan scenes, it’s likely that the production spent over Sh1 billion filming in South Africa. This is money that would have easily been spent in Kenya. However, filming in Kenya is legally restrictive and the government does not give competitive incentives, so much so that it’s cheaper to build a mini-Kenya in another country for a movie scene.
The Crown is not the first major production to do this. The 2010 film Inception starring Leonardo Dicaprio had a Mombasa scene, and yet the production crew found it cheaper and perhaps less legally restricting to build a mini-Mombasa in Morocco.
Back to The Crown, owing to an impressive premier, the show has been renewed for an additional five seasons. Unfortunately, Kenya has already missed the chance to have this very key part of the story where we fit in filmed here, and with it a king’s ransom in production spend.
After the princess found out of her father’s death in February of 1952, she cancelled her trip and went back home. 14 months later, she was crowned as Queen and is today the longest serving monarch. To celebrate and mark the queen’s coronation, a car rally was held through the Kenyan bush and this annual event is what later came to be known as the Safari Rally.
The queen did visit Kenya again in 1983, but seeing as the trip was largely inconsequential to the bigger story, it is unlikely it will be covered in the future episodes of consecutive seasons of The Crown. Should the producers decide to feature this second visit in the story either way, they will probably choose to film it in South Africa again.
As we wait to see, let’s get back to banning private parties and censoring wedding videos.
The writer is an award winning film maker and the executive producer of Young Rich, Get in the Kitchen and Our Perfect Wedding