The Royal Hibiscus Hotel (RHH): A review

Set in Lagos and London, the movie tells the story of a passionate London chef, ‘Ope’, who was trying to follow her dream of opening a restaurant in London, but was frustrated by her lack of progress.

The latest offering from EbonyLife Films, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel, is a ‘blooming’ love story, purposefully crafted for universal viewing.

Its first screening was for a critical audience at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), creating considerable buzz for its subsequent premiere in Lagos, Nigeria on 4th February.

Contextually, the film weaves a love theme, with a mixture of local and universal flavours, craftily packaged for a global audience. Its cinematography highlights the familiar sites and sounds of the mega-city of Lagos; setting the scene for its universal appeal. 

The storyline is a familiar one of the twists and turns between two young lovers, Ope (Zainab Balogun), a ‘returnee’ trained chef from abroad, and Deji (Kenneth Okolie), a suave, successful entrepreneur. Their courtship is spiced with sub-themes revolving around various supportive and meddling characters.

Ope’s mother, Rose Adeniyi (Rachel Oniga), is the recognisable, true-to-type of all fretful mothers of marriageable daughters, irrespective of race, creed or nationality. It’s a role she plays to perfection, with anticipation of her strut and puff as the ‘mother of the bride’, basking in the imagined grandeur of her daughter’s wedding day. 

Her husband and co-owner of The Royal Hibiscus Hotel, Chief Segun Adeniyi (Jide Kosoko), is distracted with impending bankruptcy and its attendant consequences – mainly the loss of the hotel. Both play their roles as an ageing couple to perfection, with petty squabbles and romantic banter, which leave little to the imagination.

The film’s main attribute is the crafting of all aspects of the film – from the casting of roles, e.g. the hotel receptionist, Chika (Lala Akindoju), turning a minor role into a memorable one that elicited applause every time she was on the prowl for a ‘manhandle’; to comic, romantic banter between Ope’s parents, with the gracefully ageing mother and wife being as spritely and flirtatious as a young wife.

On display too, is the Nigerian sense of grandeur, dignity and self-assurance through the hyperbolic naming of the hotel – The Royal Hibiscus Hotel. In traditional parlance, it is not a flight of fancy; it is about taking pride in one’s achievement, no matter how insignificant it may seem to onlookers.

The Royal Hibiscus Hotel is deftly handled by director Ishaya Bako and succeeds on almost every level; where each character, scene, costume and bit of humour merge to make the film enjoyable and memorable.

It also wears a badge of global excellence, by being one of the three recognised movies from Africa at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The other two were from South Africa and Senegal, with major support from Europe. 

EbonyLife Films’ Royal Hibiscus Hotel was Nigeria’s successful submission at the film festival. Living up to the import of being Nigeria’s ambassador at the TIFF, it paraded a list of current, notable Nigerian actors, displayed a well-executed theme of love and scaled the critical test amongst equals.

It flew the Nigerian flag as a testimony of our long and notable history of theatre arts excellence, which encompasses drama, dance, artistes and playwrights – the most recognised of which is Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka.

However, the food for thought, provided by The Royal Hibiscus Hotel and relevant to the current state of our performing arts, is consistency in production quality, in order to remain a competitive regional/global player.

A starting point is a mindset like Mo Abudu’s, which employs filmmaking as a viable commodity of exchange in the regional and international entertainment business grid. The current wave of revival, surging through Nigerian filmmaking and the performing arts, must be encouraged and sustained through purposeful patronage of both. 

Significantly, the real import of The Royal Hibiscus Hotel goes beyond its entertainment value. A reality check shows that, in spite of the mushrooming of Nigerian embassies globally, our membership in international and regional bodies, and our vast population with natural existential diversities, Nigeria is largely perceived as monolithic and is best known for duplicity.

EbonyLifeFilms is gradually, but steadily, becoming one of Nigeria’s veritable canvases, showcasing ‘who we are, what we look like, how we think and how we live’. That is the measure of what EbonyLife Films does to put a stamp on our existential identity as a people and a nation. 

To EbonyLifeFilms: Lights on, curtains drawn, take a bow!

Dr Doyinsola Abiola was former Managing Director of Concord Newspaper.

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