The Herbert Macaulay Affair

“The Herbert Macaulay Affair” does the man no justice

News of “The Herbert Macaulay Affair” excited Nigeria cinema goers. First, a teaser. Then a tweet from the film’s director Imoh Umoren revealing the trailer. The very well cut trailer amplified interest. And reactions were; ‘Great! Nollywood is now telling stories of our heroes past. We can’t wait.’ Some others said ‘This movie, hopefully, will drive a lot more filmmakers to look into making movies about Nigeria’s history.‘ And some simply described it as timely.

The reactions are not far-fetched. Except for the Herbert Macaulay road in Yaba, Lagos and the One Naira coin which the nationalist once graced, most Nigerians do not know what Herbert Macaulay stood for. Neither do they know why he is regarded as one of Nigeria’s heroes.

“The Herbert Macaulay Affair” one of the anticipated Nollywood movies of 2019 because for many fans, it was an opportunity to get in touch with history. Regrettably, “The Herbert Macaulay Affair” did not live up to expectations. It is downright disappointing.

Umoren has a lot of experience working in television with reality TV shows namely; “MTV Base Advance Warning,” “Malta Guinness Street Dance,” and “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” to his credit.

But five years ago, Umoren delved into filmmaking starting with short films. “Hard Times” was Umoren’s first short film. It is also a silent film. And it earned him a 2015 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Award (AMVCA) in the Best New Media (Online Video) category. The award spotlighted him as an indie filmmaker to watch. Umoren followed “Hard Times” with “Happyness Limited” and “Children of Mud.” The latter also received several AMVCA nominations. However, “The Herbert Macaulay Affair” is perhaps an indication that Umoren is not yet ready to take on feature film.

“The Herbert Macaulay Affair” is set in the late 1800s through the early 1900s. The biopic strives to chronicle Olayinka Herbert Macaulay’s journey to nationalism. William Benson plays Macaulay. Benson is not a Nollywood regular. But he carries the role, suitably. The supporting cast includes; Tonia Chukwurah, Kelechi Udegbe, Saheed Balogun and Stanlee Ohikhuare. Macaulay’s grandson, Wale, also stars in biopic. And he is Umoren’s associate producer while they rely on Genesis Pictures for distribution.

set in the late 1800s through the early 1900s. The film strives to chronicle Olayinka Herbert Macaulay’s journey to nationalism. William Benson plays Macaulay. Benson is not a Nollywood regular. But he carries the role, suitably. The supporting cast includes; Tonia Chukwurah, Kelechi Udegbe, Saheed Balogun and Stanlee Ohikhuare. Macaulay’s grandson, Wale, also stars in biopic. And he is Umoren’s associate producer while they rely on Genesis Pictures for distribution.

“The Herbert Macaulay Affair” portrays Macaulay’s private and public life. The film begins with a very dramatic opening. Thereafter, the story is told through a flashback. It is 1893 and Herbert has just returned from Plymouth where he studied to become a surveyor. Herbert joins the civil service as surveyor of Crown Lands. He felt privileged. He lives in a modern storey-building and dines with his family like the British. Essentially, Herbert owed his life to the British. Had they not rescued his grandfather from an American-bound slave ship, he wouldn’t have the life he had. So, he was earnestly thankful to the British.

Although Macaulay received several complaints of the British taking over ancestral lands of Nigerians, he paid not attention. He was loyal to the Queen. And he was pro-British rule. In his opinion, the lands belonged to Queen Victoria’s government. But sooner than later, he fell out with the British. Herbert began to fight for the same causes to which he initially turned a blind eye.

Be that as it may, there was a fundamental problem with the film’s screenplay. Bisi Jamgbadi’s storytelling is disjointed. It had different plot lines that the Jamgbadi could not piece together seamlessly. As such, the film just seemed like pieces of unconnected material put together. In addition, Jamgbadi failed to properly establish the conflict.

Other than the locations, costumes and props this movie is nothing to write home about. The language and mannerisms of some of the characters were somewhat modern. For instance, Udegbe who portrayed Macaulay’s cousin, was guilty of these.

Still, the biggest failing of the film is the poor use of music. Whilst it understandable that classical music is reminiscent of the time, one wonders what the point of its use is, if the audience cannot follow the story? For the better part of “The Herbert Macaulay Affair,” the constant music in the background hugely interrupted by the dialogue. And rather than add authenticity to the story, the music succeeded in putting the audience to sleep.

In the end, you ask yourself if “The Herbert Macaulay Affair” is about his love affairs, or the affairs of the state. And you will walk away not knowing who the man Herbert Macaulay was. Sadly, this movie does not do him any justice.


Directed and produced by: Imoh Umoren

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About the author

A lover of the arts who sees film and television through the prism of the Nigerian viewer.