Watching ‘The Chronicles of Odumkrom – The Headmaster’ – reminded me so much of my school days reading Shakespeare.
The Ernest Kofi Abbeyquaye film exudes all the hallmarks of a typical Ghanaian drama…The well-meaning individual, a problem that threatens to destabilise that individual and or his family, and those archetypal characters hungry to bring down the good.
But unlike the myriad of Ghanaian dramas I’ve seen, I felt ‘The Chronicles’ successfully pulls the audience to the bosom of the protagonist – headmaster Master Andoh aka Charles Kofi Bucknor.
Many Ghanaian dramas are successful in playing out scenes of tragedy – a common ingredient in Shakespeare’s plays. But the fixation with witchcraft at times overshadows any chance to really explore the characters past a one-dimensional standpoint.
In ‘The Chronicles’, I felt a part of Master Andoh’s rise, fall and subsequent ascent.
We watch as his character assassinations from some in the community chip away at his standing as a respected member of the town. At the same time, obsession and desperation forces him to make some questionable moral decisions.
Experiencing this gamut of emotions immediately reminded me of the powerful Shakespearean stories of ‘Othello’, ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Coriolanus’. We watch their descent from the highest echelons of respect within their communities to near madness and ultimately death.
Even without the resulting death scenes, ‘The Chronicles’ is still every bit as theatrical, visceral and succeeded in taking me to the edge of my nerves.
The story starts as dramatically as any well-known Shakespearean play with a terrible storm destroying the local school. These effects play out across the local community with central figure Master Andoh tortured by the prospect that his students will have nowhere to learn in Odumkrom.
He then embarks on a journey to convince the local community that they should help him build new premises for the youngsters.
A simple premise but immediately we see the metaphorical storms that brew among dissenters willing for Master Andoh’s plan to fail. Equally unsettling is Master Andoh’s mental state which suffers as the nightmarish extent of his altruistic plan unfolds.
He is plagued by bad dreams and the development of the project starts to affect his relationship with his wife. It even results in wife Ama Dapaah aka Doris Sackitey being hospitalised for a time.
I felt that at so many twists and turns in the film, Abbeyquaye could have easily given in to stringing out Master Andoh’s tragic consequences. There are the obvious seeds of doubt Katawere (Ebenezer Donkoh) and his cronies plant within the community to try and form opposition to the new building project. There is the controversial issue of land ownership; the spiralling costs of the construction work, and the subtle use of black magic.
Even fiery moneylender and debt collector Kofi Bediako (aka Frederick Amugi) could have easily manipulated his hold over the headmaster and increased his suffering. But Abbeyquaye resists and instead uses resident drunkard Ata Yaw (Clement Bonney) as the moral voice of the community. Ata succeeds in adding comic relief as well to the film – yet another common feature in Shakespearean plays.
Ata Yaw is comical to watch. Here is a man who struggles to keep balance because of his constant inebriation. And yet he has the presence of mind to provide the audience with astute analysis of the growing problem in Odumkrom through a series of asides and monologues.
He even has the audacity to interrupt a town meeting, in which the local chief attends… to issue some words of wisdom to a chattering crowd. Imagine!
For me, the 143-minute-long film offered an unexpected but welcome ending that was reminiscent of Kwaw Ansah’s ‘Love Brewed in an African Pot’ where good triumphs so royally over bad. I loved the fluid interchange between actors speaking in Fante, Twi and Ga, and it was a joy to watch the accomplished Abena – the headmaster’s daughter – Theodorah Amuah.
The film also raises important societal questions about the role of local government in supporting the community; the value placed on education and the complex motives of individuals. Well worth watching.
By Kirsty Osei-Bempong
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