’Reyka’ is an unsettling watch with a career-defining performance by Kim Engelbrecht

Kim Engelbrecht

Kim Engelbrecht plays the title lead in M-Net’s crime drama, ’Reyka’. Picture: Supplied

Published Jul 24, 2021


After so much hype around M-Net’s new African crime drama, “Reyka”, it finally debuted on the small screen.

To be honest, it surpassed expectations. It’s got a stellar cast of Kim Engelbrecht, ‘Game of Thrones’ actor Iain Glen, Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Thando Thabethe, Leeanda Reddy, Hamilton Dlamini, Kenneth Nkosi, Fiona Ramsey, Ian Roberts, Desmond Dube and introduces teen star, Gabrielle de Gama.

A few weeks ago, I chatted with Harriet Gavshon from Quizzical Pictures and the producer sang the praises of Engelbrecht.

She wasn’t off the mark, though. This is undoubtedly a career-defining role for the actress.

Before delving into performances, though, let’s first look at the roots of this series. It is the brainchild of award-winning screenwriter and creator Rohan Dickson.

And the directing duo of Zee Ntuli (“Hard to Get”) and Catherine Cooke (“The Girl from St Agnes”) deserve praise for bringing his vision to life. They dexterously handle storylines that flit between 1994 and the present day.

They ensure there is a distinction between the time periods by giving the flashbacks a gritty, dated feel while, at the same time, capturing the transitional period of the country’s history.

Anna-Mart van der Merwe as Elsa, Reyka’s mother. Picture: Supplied

The opening frames revisit young Reyka’s (De Gama) abduction on April 27, 1994. Her mother Elsa (Van der Merwe), who was a photographer, was covering the elections for a local publication.

Amid the burgeoning excitement, Elsa lost track of Reyka for a brief moment. That was all it took, though. Her 11-year-old was nowhere to be found.

Back to the present day, Reyka (Engelbrecht) is now a mom to a teenage daughter, Thuli, and a criminal profiler. Although her mom helps her with her motherly duties, she’s brilliant at what she does as a cop.

But her past returns to haunt her as her abductor Angus Speelman (Glen) has applied for parole after two decades behind bars.

This is the worse time to have her demons surface as a new murder case emanating from the cane fields of KwaZulu-Natal, where six bodies have been discovered, demands her complete focus.

Iain Glen as Angus Speelman.

But Angus uses her distraction as a bargaining chip; he tries to convince her to retract her statement and, in exchange, he will give her information on Lucy, the other victim, who was abducted around the same time as Reyka

This leaves Reyka conflicted about the choices before her. She’s pulled into different directions and this isn’t time to be chasing ghosts as another woman is missing.

Hector Zwane (Dlamini) suspects it may be the dumping ground of a hitman, Reyka is convinced that it’s the work of a serial killer.

The more traction they make with the case, the more surprises await them and, in an unintended way, it forces Reyka to revisit her abduction as well as this weird hold that her abductor seems to have over her.

As I pointed out, this series has a dream cast. Every actor plays their part with gravitas.

Engelbrecht’s emotional range is stupendous. She vacillates between a confident profiler, an absent mother to that scared, impressionable little girl back in 1994.

When she is overwhelmed by emotions connected to the latter aspect, she numbs the pain with alcohol.

Her mother Elsa tries to make up for her absence in Thuli’s life.

The multi-layered storytelling has several themes running through it as it homes in on shattered trust, deception, healing and forgiveness.

“Reyka” is a gritty offering that meanders into a world that’s dark and dangerous. The story arcs may be unsettling but it is handled with commendable sensitivity and raw honesty.

Reyka” airs on M-Net (DStv channel 101) on Sundays at 8pm.

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