I finally got to see Imoh Umoren’s period drama The Herbert Macaulay Affair. I was really looking forward to seeing it as I absolutely love period pieces, and with the little knowledge of Herbert Macaulay, I just couldn’t hold myself. Unfortunately, as I left the theater, I couldn’t help but feel confused, sad and dispirited with what I saw. I kept asking myself why Imoh Umoren didn’t take his time to make this film or why he even tried in the first place.
I almost could not write this review, but it must be done, so here is my review of The Herbert Macaulay Affair.
Herbert Macaulay Affair told the story of the real life Hebert Macaulay, the foremost nationalist in Nigeria. The film chronicled Macaulay’s rise up until 1921 as he consistently was a thorn in the flesh of the white colonialists. The film also explored his personal life, letting the audience know that behind Macaulay’s fierceness was a man with personal and emotional issues just like anyone else. One con however was that Herbert Macaulay Affair only told half the story of Macaulay’s nationalist struggle and failed to delve more into his personal life and the establishment of the NNDP in 1923, very important aspects of his story
It feels like there was little or no research at all carried out before writing the Herbert Macaulay affair. The film was supposed to explore the character and person of Herbert Macaulay and how he started the nationalist revolution rather than the aesthetic of the time. While for the most part, some events were accurately depicted, the character himself wasn’t fully explored. Maybe Herbert Macaulay was too much of a complex character to write. More so, if there is any rule every script writer should adhere to, it is that if a scene does not drive the plot forward, cut it out. Unfortunately the Herbert Macaulay Affair was filled with scenes that were really just there to fill up time, especially at the beginning. The writer was too excited and in a hurry, and as such wrote an inadequate script.
There are no actual videos of Herbert Macaulay, so it will be difficult to objectively judge any depiction. However, on the basis of delivering a commanding and believable performance, William Benson deserves applause for his work. Mary Kowo who played the leader of the Lagos Market Women’s Association, Alimotu Pelewura also put in a fine display, likewise Saidi Balogun as Eleko Eshugbayi. The acting in Imoh’s biopic was definitely one of the very few high points.
There is no doubt that Imoh Umoren knows what he is doing when it comes to directing. Pulling off a period piece in Nigeria with the limited resources is not an easy thing to do; Imoh knew this and it showed in the directing. He didn’t try to do too much and was very practical. Since getting that 20th century Lagos look might have been an uphill task, Imoh skillfully diverted the audience’s attention from aesthetics and tried to make them focus on Herbert Macaulay. In doing this, he made use of a lot of medium shots rather than more complicated long shots and takes. While he might have played it safe, Herbert Macaulay still had some impressive shots most especially the slow motion shot of him leading the protesters to the governor’s office.
The sound editing was poor. The voices of the actors were either too loud or too low. Sometimes, the soundtrack made it difficult to hear conversations. Nevertheless, the film’s score gave the movie that 20th century feel and was a good storytelling tool.
I wouldn’t want to use the word disappointed but to be honest, that was how I felt as I left the movie theatre. It felt like Imoh was in a hurry to make this film and was already dreaming of its release before shooting any scene. The movie felt half baked and didn’t really do justice to the story of Herbert Macaulay. While the acting and Imoh’s pragmatic directing should be applauded, every other thing felt amiss I must say.