When I watch a movie, I notice the costume design first. How a character dresses speaks a lot about who they portray on-screen. Naturally, I am intrigued by the colour scheme, themes, and pieces and am generally interested in the creative story of matching a theme to a character. For Prime’s Breath of Life, the styling and costume design were a highlight for me. It was deeply satisfying.
I had the pleasure of seeing ‘Breath of Life’ at its premiere at the Africa International Film Festival in November 2023, and I’ve been eager to discuss some aspects of the film. Watching Eku Edewor flawlessly portray Bridget, the chic retro British clergy wife, and Genoveva Umeh’s portrayal of evolving fashion made unravelling the film’s costume themes a thrilling experience that I simply couldn’t resist delving into.
Eku Edewor as Bridget- The sophisticated clergy wife
The first style moment in the film is Bridget’s reveal as Reverend Tim’s wife. The camera pans to her face, and in a genius move by the editor, Eku’s name comes on screen as the Producer of Breath of Life. It was a funeral scene- she was in a black midi shirt dress, a lace veil covering her face, which she lifted with gloved hands to reveal her stunning dark red lips and blonde hair. It was a moment. The audience gasped and then clapped. The contrast of monochrome black and dark red lips with her skin instantly portrayed her character as sophisticated and stylish. I began to anticipate her subsequent looks and boy; she did not disappoint.
The next time we see Bridget is when the family returns to Nigeria from England. She maintained the black monochrome look in an A-line midi skirt and charcoal grey blazer. The statement piece of her outfit was the spiralled sheer fascinator, paired with her signature red lips, portraying her as a powerful woman with a firm belief in her husband. After all, she relocated across the globe to be with him. If that doesn’t epitomise strength, I don’t know what does.
In follow-up scenes, Bridget is seen in various looks as she seamlessly blends her classy style with the traditional Nigerian outfits. She shows up in a lace skirt and blouse adorned with frills and a complimenting scarf wrapped around her head as they open a church in the town. The colour scheme brightened with the change of location. Bridget is seen in pastel shades of yellow and blue for the remainder of her screen time. Her final appearance in the movie is marked by a gentle lavender midi dress, complemented by her striking red lips.
Bridget’s costume design in Breath of Life had two themes. The beginning showed a different side to a woman in equal charge as her husband. The dark colours were powerful and centred her more in the film for those brief moments. In England, she and Timi were partners. Moving back to Nigeria meant Reverend Timi, her husband, had to take charge of the church in the town. As clergy wife in Nigeria, she had a more supporting role, and it reflected in her fashion choices. She was now a mother to more than just her daughter but the entire church. Her outfit colours project a softer outlook, a fantastic contrast to how her last scene played out.
Genoveva Umeh’s costume design as Anna- The understatedly stylish lover girl
After a time jump, the film takes on a slower-paced and relaxed atmosphere. It is where we meet our couple of the year – Anna and Elijah. Anna volunteers at the same hospital where Elijah often spends time with patients. My first impression of Anna’s style was – subtle, understated, cute. It was a minimalist and distinct style hinting at a wealthy background and a down-to-earth attitude. I wasn’t wrong. Anna’s style was individualistic, quite different from her mother’s more regal-like presence in the movie.
The first time we see Anna and Elijah interact, she is in a fit and flare mini navy blue dress and black sling-back low-heeled pumps. It’s a retro-style dress with contrasting white decorative front pockets- suited to her proper yet youthful demeanour. She accessorised with simple pearl studded earrings, giving the outfit a playfully chic look.
We see more of Anna’s playful style on their first date at the lakeside, where she shows up in a midi floral slip dress. It is effortlessly sensual and sophisticated. Then she removes the dress to reveal a floral strapless swimsuit featuring a front cut-out detail. It takes our breaths away, just like Elijah’s, who immediately decides he will marry Anna.
Anna maintains her love for dainty pieces throughout the movie, going from regular thin-strapped dresses to a pretty off-shoulder mini dress with exaggerated sleeves. I particularly liked the milkmaid dress she wears for her first meeting with the great Mr. Timi, now Elijah’s boss. In this scene, I understand that although Anna is nervous to meet him, there is no fear. That is until he shows up with a gun to scare her off. Her ensemble isn’t designed to dazzle, yet she radiates confidence and style in her comfortable attire. She adds flair with a scarf used as a headband, combining playful elements in a way that suggests a fondness for such youthful accessorising.
One thing about Anna, however, is that she will match her shoes and bag in the same colour. In this scene, she picks the wine colour from the floral print on her dress and highlights it with her red bag and pumps. It reflects her bold nature, with how she incessantly banged on Timi’s door until he opened up.
However, my favourite outfit of Anna’s is a pretty mustard-coloured button-down dress she wears to confront Timi on the church issue. The hemline stops just above her knees, and she accessorises with a scarf tied to the straps of her classic black bag. Featuring a collar and button-down detail at the back, the most intriguing part of this shirt dress is a superb styling trick I learned some years ago – wearing your dress front to back. While I am still awaiting confirmation from Daniel Obasi, the costume designer, that this was indeed the case with this dress, I could recognise the cut of the dress worn that way. It was genius and such an “Anna” thing to do because she is spontaneous and adventurous.
Anna’s costume design featured a mix of fun floral prints, pastel colours, and a retro style that references the fashion girls of the 80s who expressed their moods through their outfits.
Side note- I loved Breath of Life
While some specific timelines in the movie still confuse me, Breath of Life was a literal breath of fresh air. The costume design, cinematography, creative direction, and actors’ performances (especially Ademola Adedoyin, Genoveva Umeh, and Chimezie Imo) were outstanding. This film and a few others I watched at AFRIFF have made me believe that the Nigerian film industry is on a path to greatness.
Have you watched Breath of Life? What were your favourite style moments?