In case you weren’t aware, “The Woman King” is inspired by a true story. In the 1800s there were warrior women called the Agojie who protected the kingdom and, most significantly, the king of Dahomey Africa.
I’ll get this out of the way for you… this movie is an absolute must-see! I’m predicting right now that you’ll hear a lot about it during award season.
With the yarn, written by actress Dana Stevens (City of Angels, Fatherhood) and actress Maria Bello (Coyote Ugly, A History of Violence), we see a somewhat typical storyline play through but from a completely different lens. It’s a lot of story to take in but very well written.
The writing is sharp and spirited, with fantastic acting to bring it to life. Most of the performances stand out… so much so that it’ll be difficult for you to pinpoint precisely which cast member you enjoyed the most.
From behind the camera comes outstanding visuals and violent fight sequences where it’s women taking the brunt of the blows and giving them back equally, if not more intensely, as they have much more to prove than any man. Much of the arc is about how they continue to validate that they’re worthy of being the king’s guard. When fighting scenes play out, for which there are many, aren’t going on, the plot centers around a few characters for whom you’ll find mesmerizing and root for most. Not just for the acting but for the scenarios in which they are entrenched.
A story develops around a nineteen-year-old girl named Nawi (Thuso Mbedu). Her parents plan to marry her off to an older man who hits her when she doesn’t allow him to rough her up. Not willing to take the abuse, she thinks of the Agojie warriors she admires and is in awe of. She likes the idea of giving her life to them and the kingdom rather than to someone she doesn’t love and who will never love her.
She meets General Nanisca (Viola Davis), who’s looking for new tributes to train. The general appreciates the young recruit, but she will not indulge her. This unique tribute is good but a bit hardheaded. The king needs someone who will listen to orders. This youngster has yet to understand the reasons why she can’t just do as she wishes. Knowing the rebellious youngster will eventually be one of their best fighters, Izogie (Lashana Lynch), takes her under her wing. The kingdom has a war coming soon with the Oyo, a nearby tribe, and Nanisca doesn’t have the luxury of being too picky.
The training scenes are impressive, especially when considering the fact that Nawi couldn’t even lift a sword when she first started her preparation. Almost all scenes with Nawi are passionate and robust. I’m looking very forward to what Mbedu gives us in the future.
In this film, several storylines develop from a history we might not have heard about or considered previously. Keep in mind as you bury yourself into the legend that some of this is fact and some is fiction. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood is just the woman to educate us about what the Dahomey went through.
And, as I’ve mentioned, Oscar®-winner Viola Davis is well on her way to another Oscar® and you’re not far from seeing one of the year’s best films. I can’t tell you much more about the narrative than what I’ve mentioned but believe me when I say you’ll treasure what’s to come.
“The Woman King”
Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Writers: Maria Bello, Dana Stevens
Starring: Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, John Boyega
Rated: PG-13 (Sequences of Strong Violence|Partial Nudity|Brief Language|Some Disturbing Material|Thematic Content)
Run Time: 2h 6m
Genres: History, Drama, War
Produced by: Cathy Schulman, Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, Maria Bello
Distributed by: TriStar Pictures