November 15, 2019

Still Searching for Herbert Macaulay

By Amarachukwu Iwuala

In Nollywood, there is a dearth of biopics and/or documentaries on people and historical events that shaped and continue to shape Nigeria, whether they left the nation for better or worse. This is why The Herbert Macaulay Affair by Imoh Umoren (Hard Times, All Sorts of Trouble) is a commendable.

Seventy-three years after the demise of the man described by Patrick Dele Cole (PhD) as Nigeria’s first Politician, who is widely regarded as one of Nigeria’s most prominent nationalists, Umoren brings him back to life through this flick, whose setting is a scintillating recreation of the late 19th and early 20th century Nigeria.  The costumes are reminiscent of the pictures on the walls of some homes where people’s forebears pose in attire which show that Nigerians have always been trendy folks.

People say that there were less than a million people in Lagos in colonial times and the streets of Lagos as depicted in the film give an idea how sparsely populated the city must have been.

Apart from the beautiful photography, the film only serves as a conversation starter on the life and times of the subject.  Any viewer who even anticipates the narrative to take the discourse midstream will be dissatisfied because the movie seems to be a collection of events in the life of Macaulay rather than a film with an intriguing plot capable of holding an audience’s attention.  The pacing is quite slow and will likely induce sleep in a viewer.

William Benson, who portrays Herbert Macaulay, sounds and moves as if he is on stage, same with several other actors. It leaves you wondering if the better option for the producers would have been to script a narrative for stage and title it ‘Herbert Macaulay on Stage,’ instead of taking us through the fiction that this is a moving picture.

Macaulay’s short-lived marriage to Ms. Pratt comes into focus and it is indicated that negligence by health workers led to her demise during childbirth.  If that is anything to go by, then it is sad that problems in the health sector did not begin today, though it has become more dismal right now.

Believability is lessened by the execution of some scenes and sequences.  For instance, when Macaulay went to the market to see things for himself, following the complaints by the traders, it is disappointing to see that only a few people are engaged in buying and selling.  A related observation is made during the demonstration by the traders who then collide with law enforcement agents.

Here and there, the film drops hints about Herbert Macaulay’s love life, career, activism and other interests, but the movie is not a seminal work on Macaulay.

It is laudable to conceive and execute biopics and documentaries, yet when the storytelling is all over the place, the viewer leaves the cinema, yawning like a man who was expecting a three-course meal, but ended up with just the appetizer.




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