3 1/2 Stars

The Woman King (2022)

Davis is solid: Mbedu is a breakthrough.


That is the number you should know going into seeing The Woman King, for that is the age of it’s star Viola Davis.

To put this into perspective, she is nearly three years younger than Sly Stallone was when he was last in the ring in 2006’s Rocky Balboa. She is a couple years older than Bruce Willis was the last time he played John McClane in a Die Hard film. There are of course actors who can take the idea of the “action star” in their sixties and beyond. Keanu Reeves is managing to do that (he is only 58), as is Tom Cruise (60), Harrison Ford (who, at 80, still has one more Indiana Jones film coming out), and the granddaddy (pun intended, respectfully) of them all, Clint Eastwood (whose last starring role was in 2021’s Cry Macho, at the age of 91). The main difference for Viola Davis is that she has never been known as an action star (save perhaps for Widows). She is one of the most consistently solid actresses we have these days.

Based loosely on the historical Dahomey Kingdom in West Africa in the early 19th century, Davis plays Nanisca, the general of the all woman army, called the Agojie. After the first five minutes, it is clear her army is not one to be trifled with. There kingdom, led by King Ghezo (John Boyega) is fighting not only a local nation but the english settlers making money in the horrific slave trade.

It becomes clear soon enough, however, that despite having star billing, the film is not centered so much around Nanisca. Rather, it is the young Nawi, a young woman who is abandoned by her father and is forced into service. We are almost obliged to witness the obvious training scenes, but that does not make them mundane. There are also twists in the past of Nawi and Nanisca that, I for one, did not see coming at all.

The rest of the cast does solid work, including Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, and Hero Fiennes Tiffin. The most impressive, by far, is that of Thuso Mbedu as Nawi. In her first film role (she has worked recently in television), she has to do more than just the obvious physical work of being a warrior of this time period. She has to go through the emotional hoops as well: being the newbie in the group, restraining herself from being too emotional in front of others, and pushing herself into that next level of being a soldier. All this while working next to one of the best actresses of her generation (and, in some instances, doing more than Davis is asked to do). It is a marvelous breakthrough performance for her.

Parents, the movie is a rather hard PG-13. The violence is the key factor (director Gina Prince-Bythewood does a nice job of holding the reins on the action sequences), but there is also a couple flash backs of a rape scene (no nudity), plus some swearing (though not too severe). The rating is justifiable here.

Now to speak as clearly as I can to those of you on social media, with the whole “#boycottwomanking” thing going on. There are those who are boycotting it because it is not historically accurate (the story is by actress Maria Bello, with the screenplay by Dana Stevens.) I can see where they are coming from (I won’t pretend to be someone who thinks they know about the history of slavery, because I don’t know as much as I probably should). I will say that if we all tried to boycott movies that were not all historically accurate, there would be very few movies left for us as a society to experience.

As for those who wish to boycott the film because of it being “woke” or whatever,…I refuse to say anything mean.

They probably go to no more than three or so movies a year.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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