BFI #LFF 2021: QUEEN OF GLORY Film Review

Nana Mensah in QUEEN OF GLORY

Full of fresh humour, poignancy, and tenderness, Nana Mensah’s self-assured comedy QUEEN OF GLORY captures the experience of a woman caught between two worlds.

4 out of 5 stars

A young woman’s life is thrown into disarray when she inherits her mother’s Christian bookshop in Nana Mensah’s self-assured and charming comedy QUEEN OF GLORY.

The film centres on Sarah Obeng (Nana Mensah), a Columbia science PhD candidate who is preparing to relocate to Ohio with her married boyfriend, Lyle (Adam Leon).

Lyle swears he will divorce his wife before they relocate for his new job, but Sarah’s plans are soon thrown into disarray when her mother suddenly dies, leaving her a Christian bookshop in her childhood home in the Bronx.

As Sarah struggles with funeral arrangements (both a ‘white people funeral’ and traditional Ghanaian ceremony) and tries to get rid of the shop, she begins to re-evaluate her life and, in doing so, regains a connection to her culture.

Nana Mensah in QUEEN OF GLORY

At its core, Mensah’s tightly conceived, witty, and compassionate dark comedy is about a woman caught between two worlds. Mensah’s script successfully captures a specific immigrant experience, cleverly mixing humour with sombre, more poignant moments.

Mensah’s direction is also strong. Set mostly within the Bronx community, Mensah and cinematographer Cybel Martin bring spark to the film. Beautiful wide shots engulf Sarah within her surroundings, elegantly capturing the neighbourhood’s energy and Sarah’s chaotic life.

There are also plenty of motifs. Vintage clips of Ghanaians celebrating their traditions intertwine with the present, as Sarah’s plans the funeral, emphasising the film’s sense of culture, humour, and overall appeal.

Mensah’s leading performance gives authentic soul to Sarah’s journey, a woman connecting with her heritage and figuring out her place in life. Mensah embodies Sarah as a fully fleshed-out woman, and we feel her pain and passion throughout.

In a charismatic supporting turn, Meeko brings layers of unexpected gentleness to Pitt, the gentle ex-con with a heavily tattooed face, whose rapport with Sarah is one of the film’s highlights.

Similarly, Anya Migdal is excellent as Tanya, Sarah’s childhood Russian American friend, who not only provides her support in a time of need but whose chaotic yet loving family provides insight into the lives of these diverse supporting characters.

It’s a shame then that QUEEN OF GLORY feels incomplete in parts. The script goes to such trouble to establish Sarah’s independent identity, yet abandons so thoroughly. QUEEN OF GLORY also seems to rush to an ending, slamming to a halt without closure on some of its most obvious plot points.

That said, this is an assured, confident film from Mensah, full of fresh humour, poignancy, and tenderness.

QUEEN OF GLORY screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 9 October 2021