Bruce Beresford, once again, directed perceptively when he made Mister Johnson (1990), which stars Maynard Eziashi as a black man in British Colonial Nigeria who aims to live the good life. But there is no good life when the person himself is not good and when he is thrust into misfitism by an arrogant and insulting colonial power.
Mr. Johnson identifies as an Englishman but, well, he could never become a gentleman. He is a thief; he embezzles and excessively borrows money. He values getting rich above all else. Moral ambiguity is as thick as London fog here. Johnson suffers more from his illicit choices than from pervasive racial prejudice. In a powerful, stunningly natural performance, Edward Woodard enacts a complex bigot—one who becomes a black man’s victim.
Based on a Joyce Cary novel, Beresford’s film was adeptly screenwritten by William Boyd, with palatable acting by Eziashi, Pierce Brosnan (as an admirable colonial), and Beatie Edney. A handsome-looking production, it is just as impressive as the director’s Breaker Morant and Rich in Love.