Writer-director-star Nana Mensah bears her all in Queen of Glory, a short, sharp dramedy charting life after familial loss. Screening at this year’s London Film Festival, it explores the contemporary tug-of-war for the children of immigrants, as they tussle between their family’s tradition and their own yearnings for a modernised, blended life.
Mensah plays Sarah, a New York-based scientist whose life is uprooted when her unseen mother suddenly passes away. It throws her life plans entirely off-kilter – she was just weeks away from moving to Ohio with her faculty boyfriend Lyle – and ushers in the return of her estranged father from Ghana. More than just that, Sarah inherits her mother’s Christian bookstore, the King of Glory, and wrangles between rejuvenating it alongside worker Pitt (played by Euphoria‘s Meeko Gattuso) or selling it to more affluent investors.
Sarah is a woman constantly stuck between two sides of an internal conflict: does she acclimate to the Ghanian diaspora encouraged by her father, does she sell the store, does she stay with an increasingly distant partner? She finds herself striving for mental clarity throughout the film, anchored by a script that so cleverly visualises these struggles. Her father’s affinity for football means she’s an obstacle to his fun when tidying her home, and her conversations with Pitt – who is sorely underused, and one of the film’s most endearing characters – become increasingly strained when the selling process advances. It’s a film where there is no neat answer or resolution – and the journey towards making up her mind is a difficult one.
That said, it plods along with some real vibrancy, shining through some spritely direction from Mensah. Scenes are interwoven with archive footage of Ghanian traditional ceremonies, as a reminder of her duties akin to intrusive thoughts. The clever balance between drama and comedy is great too, with some genius editing leading to some of the film’s standout laughs. Sarah’s reaction to one of Pitt’s edibles is laugh-out-loud funny, and ensures the tone never gets too downtrodden.
Yet despite the comedy, Queen of Glory is undoubtedly a character study at its core. The internal battle she struggles with is really well anchored in the visuals, especially in a third-act Ghanian funeral ceremony where her emotions come to the boil with stunning effect. Her journey to self-reliance and acceptance is a slow one, that’s littered with mistakes and poor decisions throughout – but that just makes Sarah feel all the more realistic.
It all makes for a dramedy akin to the work of Sofia Coppola, where laughs and intercut with serious discussions and endearing performances. Yet Nana Mensah eclipses any comparisons, crafting a story that feels so in-touch with contemporary narratives and debates. You’ll wish that some of the bit-parts were more fleshed-out, especially the astoundingly interesting Pitt, but Queen of Glory is heartwarming comfort cinema at its best. When the credits roll, you’ll feel lighter, warmer – but crucially, more pensive.