I was always fascinated by the man with the big moustache on the one naira coin. He had an aura of mystery and I was yearning for a good story about him to be told. That is why I was excited when I learned of “The Herbert Macaulay Affair”…so was justice done? We’ll get into that, but first, some backstory:
“The Herbert Macaulay Affair”(THMA) is a Nollywood movie directed by Imoh Umoren. It was released on the 25th of October, 2019. The story follows Young Herbert who returns from England and begins the opposition to the colonial government.
In 1898, Herbert is done with his scholarship training and becomes the first Engineer and Surveyor in the colony. Upon his return, he is employed by the Colonial Government in Lagos. He faces a lot of discrimination and watches it being done to fellow Lagosians. Annoyed by the constant marginalization, Herbert quits his job with the colonial government and starts a long opposition to them.
I have so much emotional investment in this project and a firm respect for the director, that is why this review is so hard… But let’s get into it; I’ll talk about:
- Plot & Pacing (0.5)
- Casting (lead & supporting cast) (1)
- Picture & Sound (0.5)
- Costume & Set Design (1)
- Historical accuracy & Creative liberty (1)
Speaking about the Plot: Herbert from history was quite the character, but from the movie storytelling, I struggled to feel how the monumental events altered his stance from a hero of the crown to a freedom fighter… was it his mother’s death or his wife’s death at the hospital? Was it the racist treatment by his white civil service superiors or that water tax issue? Was it the land grab issue or the beef with Carr? No doubt these all contributed but it was difficult to actually associate his life events with his main civil actions. Put this side-by-side with Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot” where the arrest of his son tipped him over the edge, writers usually pick a defining event to move the character or story forward in ways audiences can relate to. The telling of ‘THMA’ didn’t clearly tell us what singular event or series of events drove Herbert. It appeared to just be a chronological life story. It was told in a way that wasn’t coherent and didn’t feel like events were coming to a head. With the way the story was told, the movie pace appeared too fast and events just jumped forward without a driver. It may have been more interesting to tell the story around a section in his life (a bit like MLK’s Selma) than this whole rushed approached.
Next, the Cast:
It was very refreshing to see fresh faces on the big screen (and not the usual recycled Nollywood stars). I think the story had some strong lead actors that played Herbert & love interests. However, the supporting cast were quite forgettable.
Next, Picture & Sound:
‘THMA’ had some powerful scenes with great camera movements and some awesome colour correction to provide that late colonial era feeling, however, the lighting in many scenes were really really really dark. Also, with regards to sound, it appears some care was taken to soundtrack selection but its mixing was a bit weird. I mean, the background music was too loud sometimes and too fast at other times. It made for an uncomfortable hearing.
Then, Costume & set design:
‘THMA’ totally excels in the costume department. The clothes were very apt for the era the movie portrayed. Someone, buy their costume director a few bottles of expensive wine, please. Nonetheless, the sets didn’t quite hit it…. Nollywood generally lacks robust studios and personnel to deliver sets for this kind of historical biopic. I guess this is why the sets were repetitive and remained largely the same over long stretches of time. We can presumably say that the filmmakers made a noble effort given the constraints of film making in Nollywood.
Finally, historical accuracy & creative liberty:
Remember that epic scene from the award-winning “Selma” movie where Oprah Winfrey’s character was slammed on the ground? That scene took creative liberty to powerfully tell a factual historical event with much emotion. THMA, on the other hand, tried as much as possible to be historically accurate but was unable to stretch it with creative liberty. Save for the anguish close-up scene on Herbert’s face in the hospital after his wife’s death, we have no other real emotional view into any other character. Also, the story didn’t really connect with how Herbert was instrumental to Nigeria’s colonial freedom. It ends just with a horse ride down the beach and some narration of an epic court victory in London. How this legal precedence and ‘journalism’ work helped jumpstart a movement didn’t quite shine through.
I won’t lie, I am unsatisfied with this movie. It is noble that the filmmakers went where few have gone before in Nollywood and they can be forgiven for areas where we are still young as an industry (sets, sound etc.) but the fundamental storytelling is where my biggest issues are.
So, on our NerveFlo meter, based on the five areas reviewed, we will give this a 4/10 rating because it was hard to find any aspect done excellently except the costume and perhaps the boldness of the director to tell such a hard story in Nollywood.
Are we too harsh in our view? Let us know what you think in the comment section.
Watch the movie trailer here