There’s just a gulf of class between almost every production Sparrow Productions puts out there and anything else on tv in Ghana that it seems that they’re not even part of our ailing movie industry.
Shirley Frimpong Manso has long been regarded as one of the best screenwriters in Ghana and every single time you watch a movie (or series) she releases, it’s hard to shake the feeling she is playing in an entirely different league.
The last time I covered an event for Sparrow was the grand premiere of ‘Potato Potahto’, and I described it as one of the best local movies I’ve ever watched. It had everything, particularly humour, which is a big ingredient in every good movie for me and something Ghanaian writers find very difficult to capture.
On Friday night at the Silverbird Cinemas in Accra, Sparrow launched yet another production, this time the second season of the critically acclaimed political drama, ‘Shampaign’, and once again there’s no question that Shirley stands worlds apart from her counterparts.
‘Shampaign’ is a political thriller set in the mode of ‘Scandal’ or ‘The West Wing’ (arguably the greatest political thriller ever written). It follows the exploits of Ghanaian politician, Naana Akua Quansah (Joselyn Dumas), who at the end of the first season was involved in a suspicious accident which left her in a coma and precipitated a mad scramble to replace her with general elections mere months away.
Sparrow screened the first few episodes of the new season Friday night, with the story picking up from where the first season left off. As the characters in the present struggle to cope with the accident and the political elite work to maintain their iron grip on power, select flashback scenes give us the full story behind Naana’s accident, revealing a dark web of lies, deceit, betrayal and a mad scheme to ensure her political patrons can rule the nation even in her absence (through her unpolished yet delightfully innocent twin sister).
The episodes are unrelenting in their revelations of the intrigue of political life. Shampaign is like a never-ending maze, with every scene revealing plots within plots and each character hiding their own secrets, secrets which themselves have secrets. Most characters on the show are simultaneously self-serving whilst portraying being selfless, an oxymoron perhaps but undeniably the truth about the human existence.
Whilst intrigue, suspense, plotting and mad reveal after reveal makes any thriller, for me the clincher for anything I watch is about dialogue, and the dialogue in Shampaign is quite impressive. Mediocre screenwriters cannot write compelling dialogue, cannot tell stories or teach morals through their characters but ‘Shampaign’ is able to do just that. Poor dialogue is where movies or tv shows go to die and many screenwriters in Ghana can learn a thing or two about engaging dialogue from ‘Shampaign’.
Another important aspect of any good production is the score, and once again Shampaign does not disappoint. Perhaps it comes down under its own weight sometimes, juggling as many storylines as it does, and character exposition can get a bit too on the nose, but these are minor nitpicks in a production as flawless as Shampaign.
As a critic worried about the future of the Ghanaian industry, we have to be emphatic in praising high-quality productions whilst relentless in condemning mediocre ones. There are many reasons why it’s difficult being a filmmaker (and by extension an actor/actress) in Ghana, but a lot of it has to do with poor quality productions. Ghana needs more Shampaigns and less whatever it is we’re doing right now. People respond to quality and Shampaign drips with it.
Episodes of this political thriller are available to be viewed on sparrowstation.com. Shampaign stars an ensemble cast including Joselyn Dumas, Jot Agyemang, Blossom Chukwujeku, Princess Fathia Nkrumah, Kabuki Akiwumi, Fred Kanebi and Mikey Ashkar, among others. The series was created by Shirley Frimpong Manso and Ken Attoh, both of whom also serve as executive producers.