The Woman King is a new historical epic set during the 19th century, featuring an all-female group of warriors called the Agojie. Starring Viola Davis, and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the Agojie must protect their West African kingdom of Dahomey. Charlie Maris reviews.
Harry Styles was recently ridiculed on social media when he said his favourite thing about his movie, Don’t Worry Darling, was “that it feels like a movie, you know like a real movie.” The vacuousness of this comment may be laughable, but Mr. Styles should have been talking about The Woman King.
The Woman King is a historical epic not unsimilar to films you will have seen before, but this is no bad thing. Viola Davis is Nanisca, the general of the Agojie, and must prove that she has the ability to protect the Dahomey kingdom against threats by other tribes and from Portuguese slavers.
The Woman King hits the genre beats with finesse
Simultaneously, we follow a group of new recruits to the all-female warrior unit, who are being trained by Nanisca, and put through strenuous trials to see if they can make it into this powerful unit. The Woman King hits the genre beats with finesse. The kingdom of Dahomey, and particularly its costumes, are beautifully drawn, and pull you further and further into the film. The updating of the genre with a predominantly female and Black cast also makes a fresh change.
The great Viola Davis leads a fantastic group of actors, and manages to instil her fearsome and powerful general with just the right amount of vulnerability, so that you understand the huge amount of weight she is just managing to bear. Similarly, Lashana Lynch plays Izogie, an experienced Agojie, who is in charge of the new recruits. Lynch is brilliant, and so charismatic, that you want to spend as much time as possible with her character.
Nawi, played by Thuso Mbedu, is given away by her father to the Agojie, and so must prove to herself that she is strong to enough to lead her own life. It is through her point of view that we get to know the Agojie, and as a relative newcomer, Mbedu gives her character a great sense of youthful confidence, that ensures you want her to succeed. This triad of characters makes certain that every second they are on screen is enthralling.
Some questions raised around the film’s historical accuracy
Throughout the film, Nanisca and King Ghezo (John Boyega), wrestle with slavery and the reliance Dahomey has on selling slaves to Europeans. There have been some questions raised around the film’s historical accuracy, especially regarding to what extent there was any debate over the morality of this wealth from slavery. Frankly, these questions seem immaterial to me. Films have heroes and villains, and there needs to be some dramatic arc. The film’s portrayal of the murky wealth at the heart of Dahomey is nuanced, and I imagine that individuals getting so exercised over historical inaccuracies are not doing so over Gladiator or Braveheart.
The Woman King is something that is all too rare in Hollywood today. This film manages to thrill the audience throughout, without pandering to snark or crude basic storytelling. Gina Prince-Bythewood has managed to extract incredible performances within a brilliantly executed world, and shows how adult mainstream entertainment can still be a great success today.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
In-article images courtesy of @womankingfilm via @instagram.com. No changes were made to these images.
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