Affecting tale of African model's odyssey.


Desert Flower

is based on the autobiography of Waris Dirie, the Somalian-born model turned celebrity campaigner against female circumcision, a ritual she suffered as a three-year-old - as many thousands of women in African still do.

As a biopic it's moving but uneven. Its mix of high gloss visual style, jaunty English supporting characters and a need to paint Dirie (Kebede) as perpetually naive try too hard, and result in a contrived feel-good factor.

The film mainly concentrates on how Dirie's exotic looks took her from faceless illegal immigrant in Britain to the cover of


, and the dawning of her activism which has won her the attention of everyone from the UN to European heads of state.

Though you might wonder if the spotlight she's been allowed to get - including this film which was a co-production of Germany, Britain and Austria where Dirie now resides - has an ulterior motive. That the issue of female genital mutilation, barbaric practice that it is, is an easy stick to beat some of the Muslim world with.



Desert Flower

doesn't concern itself too much with international politics or culture clashes, just a point by point telling of how Dirie went from desert nomad to catwalk with flashbacks to her wilderness childhood, having run away to Mogadishu on the eve of being sold into marriage at the age of 13. She was shipped off by her grandma to become a maid at the Somali Embassy until political upheavals at home left her out on the streets.

This is where the adult part of the story begins as she makes friends with an aspiring ballerina (Hawkins), is discovered by prominent photographer (Spall) and signed up by an agent (Stevenson).

German director Horman seems to have told all three that their English character quirks need a little heightening. In the case of Stevenson, her hyper model's agent character seems to have escaped from an episode of

Absolutely Fabulous

, Hawkins does her melancholy goof once more in between giving her lanky new best friend catwalk lessons, and Spall makes good use of the lensman skills he picked up as a photographer in

Secrets and Lies


Fortunately, Dirie is portrayed convincingly and affectingly by Ethiopian model turned actress Liya Kebede.

Yes, the camera loves her too. But her expressive performance quietly evokes Dirie's hurt and heart while the movie around her tends to shout about it. As a movie about how a potential supermodel became a superwoman campaigner instead,

Desert Flower

is inspiring and thought-provoking. It's just not that super.


Liya Kebede, Sally Hawkins, Juliet Stevenson, Craig Parkinson, Meera Syal, Anthony Mackie, Timothy Spall


Sherry Horman


R16 (violence, sexual themes, content that may disturb)

Running time:

120 mins