Zainab Balogun Stands Out in the “Royal Hibiscus Hotel”

Movie Review: The Royal Hibiscus Hotel

Producer: Temidayo Abudu

Director: Ishaya Bako

Cast: Kenneth Okolie, Zainab Balogun, Rachel Oniga, Deyemi Okanlawon, Toni Tones, Ini Dima- Okojie, Joke Silva, Olu Jacobs and Kemi Lala Akindoju

Year: 2018


The “Royal Hibiscus Hotel” feels and looks like any other romantic film you have seen before – maybe less impressive than some. We go into a romantic comedy already knowing that our leads are going to meet, lose and, ultimately, get back other. So creating two unique characters an audience will fall in love with and NEED to see United is the most important key to a romcoms success.

All great characters have purpose and credibility, are empathic and complex. But romantic comedy leads have additional requirements. They’re emotionally incomplete people who get completed by their mate-to-be. One (if not both) of the protagonists should have an inner conflict that the story’s romantic relationship confronts and ultimately resolves.

The Royal Hibiscus Hotel features Ope (Zainab Balogun) a Nigerian chef based in London who leaves her job because she is dissatisfied. She returns to Nigeria to reconnect with her family and take up her family’s hotel business. As a chef, she has dreams of transforming culinary services in Nigeria. She wants to inspire young Nigerian chefs to do better and to sell African dishes to the world. Her return also coincides with a pivotal moment in the family business. The Hotel which formed memories of Ope’s childhood is about to be sold to Deji (Kenneth Okolie).

Ope and Deji meet and fall in love. Things are good for them until Ope discovers that the hotel that inspired her return is about to be sold to Deji. She loathes him for this and decides to return to London to work for other restaurant owners.

Ishaya Bako directed the romance feature which made its debut at the Toronto Film Festival in September of 2017. Nigerians did not get a full feel of it, until its debut at the cinemas earlier in February.

Royal Hibiscus Hotel looked like a sure sell-out because of its well-cut trailer, its romance narrative and Mo Abudu backing the project, but if you go into the cinema expecting a certain rush or a little excitement then you might feel a little letdown.

Romance features  inspire you to fall in love, to hope for love, or to offer love. When a film does the same thing that other films in the same genre have done, then it hardly offers a new experience or will hardly be memorable. “Royal Hibiscus Hotel” is not the type of romance feature I will remember in the next three months. I left the cinema with no excitement, no inspiration to seek love. Other films have made me feel that way and seeing this made me remember those films, instead of giving me its own experience.

Nevertheless, there were scenes that got me smiling, the opportunity to create some impact on its audience was not realized.

It tries to sell humour but most of the jokes fell flat. Rachel Oniga was able to get the audience laughing, through her mannerism, we were able to find some joy – a reason to giggle.

Zainab Balogun brings Ope’s character to life. When you leave the cinema, you will remember Ope’s sass, her charisma, and her determination. If you had any doubt that Zainab was capable of leading a film, “The Royal Hibiscus Hotel” will clear your doubt.

Kenneth Okolie had his chance at a big cinema movie – he did a good job. The role did not stretch him as an actor, it did not offer him anything we are not used to, but Kenneth did well.

While Ini Dima-Okojie is excellent at playing the mean girl, there was no need for her character. When she appears on screen, we expect a lot. We expect her to complicate the relationship of Ope and Deji but her beauty is used in true advertising style, as Deji’s abs are used.  Ini Dima is not the only unnecessary character introduced through our time here, Joke Silva and Olu Jacobs arrive the hotel to celebrate their anniversary. Their purpose in the film is to fill time and this was unnecessary.

Set design and cinematography are some of the most notable assets of “Royal Hibiscus Hotel” the effort in developing the feel of the hotel is worthy of commendation. Ishaya’s effort to create hunger from flaunting many of the dishes in the film does a great service to the storytelling. If anything made “The Royal Hibiscus Hotel” memorable, it was the impeccable set design and the excellent cinematography.


About the Author

Rejoice is a 22-year-old  aspiring Filmmaker and a big dreamer. She’s also a ‘Theatre and film’ arts graduate from the University of Jos, Nigeria.

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