Since its release in the Netherlands a week ago, the feature film ‘Tula: the Revolt’, about a slave uprising on the Dutch colonial island of Curacao in the Caribbean, has garnered mostly lukewarm reviews from Dutch media channels. Two of the nation’s largest newspapers, Telegraaf and Volkskrant, have awarded the movie a 2-out-5 star rating. Another big newspaper, AD, rated it 3-out-of-5 stars.
The consensus among reviewers is that ‘Tula: the Revolt’ would have benefited from a better script, better characterizations, better cinematography and dialogue spoken in uniformed English.
Overall, the production received praise for its subject matter. Up until now, Dutch colonial slavery had never before been portrayed in a feature film. For bringing this part of history onto the big screen, director Jeroen Leinders has earned wide acclaim. Reviewers also commended the film maker for his decision to use actual historical buildings in Curacao for the film’s décor. Another strong point, critics agree, is the casting of British actor Obi Abili in the lead role of the rebellious slave Tula. His talent and charisma carry the movie, it is said. Equally lauded is Dutch actor Jeroen Willems, who, in the lesser role of a slave owner, is said to have added subtle depth to a two-dimensionally scripted character.
The editor for VPRO Gids, a Dutch magazine with national coverage, is of the opinion that Leinders has made ‘too much a symbol’ out of the character of Tula. Based on an actual person in an actual historical event, the hero in ‘Tula: the Revolt’ is, according to VPRO Gids, burdened with the task of ‘standing for everything that is good and righteous’. “It is difficult to empathize with him”, says the editor. VPRO Gids also questions ‘whether audiences will be able to enjoy the many little-convincing fights and the one-dimensional story’.
The reviewer for Filmpjekijken, an online film magazine, objects to the limited scope of the narrative. He had expected more historical context. “One does not learn much about the role that the Netherlands played during slavery from watching this movie. Leinders strictly tells the story of the uprising on Curacao, and the love between the revolt’s leader and his girlfriend.”
National newspaper Telegraaf states that the picture has been wrecked by good intentions. The reviewer says: “Half the time it feels like you’re watching a passionately performed amateur stage play. Even the actors of name and standing suffer from a rare form of stiffness in this production. And tension is lacking too: the movie opens with the cruel verdict handed down to Tula and his comrades. Slavery in the Dutch colonies would finally be abolished in 1863. It is good to be reminded of this once again, but it’s also the single merit of this film.”
The reviewer for Volkskrant concludes that ‘a healthy dose of good intentions does not naturally bring about a good film’. He says: “The delayed convulsions of the Dutch colonial empire beg for hard, confronting drama, but here result in a talkative, tv-movie-like story with generic violins on the soundtrack, wherein the characters obediently dish their lines, while the pace is too slow even during action scenes. Meanwhile, the English is spoken in clunky accents. From a production standpoint the usage of English is understandable, but the film is anything but improved by it. The lack of cinematographic aspirations make ‘Tula: the Revolt’ appear like the screen adaptation of a Wikipedia-page.”
Anouska Folkers is a freelance writer and editor. Born in the Netherlands, she currently resides in Aruba.