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the woman king

★★★

starring: viola davis, thuso mbedu, lashana lynch, and shelia atim

 

REVIEWER: lyall carter

A historical epic inspired by true events that took place in The Kingdom of Dahomey, one of the most powerful states of Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Woman King is the remarkable story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s with skills and a fierceness unlike anything the world has ever seen. Inspired by true events, The Woman King follows the emotionally epic journey of General Nanisca (Oscar®-winner Viola Davis) as she trains the next generation of recruits and readies them for battle against an enemy determined to destroy their way of life.

 

The Woman King is a story with real potential. Elite female warriors, fighting against colonization, and a sword and sandals epic in the tradition of Braveheart and Gladiator the like that hasn’t graced the silver screen for many years on this scale. While it has a flabby, slow middle half filled with unnecessary exposition, The Woman King is a well crafted sword and sandals epic, with stellar performances from Davis and Mbedu. 

 

While The Woman King follows a similar narrative trajectory to many a sword and sandal epic, it massively deviates in that it places the African nation as the ‘heroes’ of the piece with women as the warriors, something I’ve never seen on the big screen before. 

 

And while the filmmakers tease out some of that uniqueness from the way in which the warriors live an almost monastic existence to a depiction of the historic Atlantic slave trade from an entirely different perspective, it doesn’t feel it reaches its full weight of potential. Partly this can be attributed to the dialogue-heavy middle of the film, which largely feels unnecessary. 

 

The battle sequences are a real highlight - bloody, barbaric, and desperate. You are left with the sense of the realness of their harrowing struggle, a matter that truly is one of life and death. 

 

Viola Davis is an absolute powerhouse in The Woman King. She commands and demands attention, leaving you with the utter certainty that you too would follow her into battle. Thuso Mbedu follows up a stellar turn in the critically acclaimed miniseries The Underground Railroad with a performance that bubbles fit to burst with the enthusiasm of youth but the steely determination to become a warrior to protect her people. 

 

While it has a flabby, slow middle half filled with unnecessary exposition, The Woman King is a well crafted sword and sandals epic, with stellar performances from Davis and Mbedu.

★★★