‘The Woman King’ Review: “A Phenomenal Historical Epic”
The Woman King is the next picture director Gina Prince-Bythewood has put up, and boy. This historical fiction hits everything needed for an epic of its proportion. Focusing on the Agojie, an all-female warrior group that protected the kingdom of Dahomey in Western Africa in the 1820s. Led by an amazing cast, The Woman King showcases the Agojie as they train a new generation of warriors to defend themselves and their kingdom from slavery.
The best part of The Woman King is the characters. Bythewood worked with writer Dana Stevens to ensure the women depicted weren’t just warriors, but capable of showcasing their emotions. From the battlefield to her room in the barracks, Viola Davis as General Nanisca is absolutely incredible. She does phenomenally well, both as a mentor to the new warriors, who include Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), and the powerful woman who has to explore her own trauma of being captured and escaping before the film. Nawi is an incredibly complex character. She showcases all of the different aspects of Dahomey, from being with her family, to slavery, and to a glimpse at a life outside Dahomey. Lashana Lynch plays Izogie, who’s another great character, playing off of Davis’ Nanisca to show a different side of leadership.
Read: See How They Run Review: “A Cliché But Entertaining Time”
Mbedu and Lynch have great chemistry together and their scenes are some of my favorite. Boiling it down to one of the few men of focus, Malik (Jordan Bolger) feels slightly unnecessary at points. However, the points where he’s useful are really good. He’s able to help Nawi see an emotional side is capable in her life. After being overwhelmed with her parents selling her off, and then training with the Agojie, it felt nice to give Nawi another option. I would have loved to see John Boyega play someone other than King Ghezo, just to see him get some action sequences. I understand his importance in the role to the story, just wanted to see him get some fights in. He gives a great performance as the king!
The Woman King really envelops the viewer in Western Africa through the scenery, costumes and weaponry. The costumes for the warriors feel really simple, allowing for freedom of movement. Additionally I really appreciated the women and men were in similar gear. Ghezo and his court are dressed in more fine clothes, which still feel like what I’ve seen should have come from Africa at the time. I love the scenery we get showcasing Western Africa. The shoot primarily took place in South Africa over five months, and while Bythewood called it one of her hardest shoots because of COVID, it absolutely looks beautiful.
For the script, there are a couple of issues I have, that lean more on the nitpicky side. It would have helped to showcase a little more of the Oyo Empire, just to flesh out the conflict a little more. The “predict Nanisca’s future” scene feels a little cliché, but it does help lead into the emotional conflicts later on. I do hate the wishy-washyness of how Nanisca is instructing the new Agojie. It’s very much “do as I say, not as I do”, which I can’t stand. There is one scene towards the end which feels overly played out for the dramatics. It can take you out of the very realistic situation at hand.
To round it off, the action choreography is superb. The fights are done well to play up the action, and violence of what’s going on, without being overtly gory. Adding in more gore would have detracted too much from the story overall. The choreography also played well to the women’s strengths, keeping it more realistic instead of all the guys just ending up beat up, no matter what. Bythewood coaxed some phenomenal performances out of everyone. She took great care with the story, and treated it well. Cinematographer Polly Morgan works the camera incredibly well, keeping the viewer’s eyes in the right spots.
Bythewood worked everything out to give this film, this story the best chance to hit with people. Davis gives a great performance that will be in award talks, but a relative newcomer to mainstream films Mbedu is absolutely the best part. She strives to give it all for her character Nawi, and it hits home. The screenplay by Dana Stevens is wonderful, and truly does provide a great story. With most of the producers, and the writers, director, cinematographer and editor being female, it was a joy to see this film turn out great. The Woman King should be on your radar if you’re looking for an action-packed historical film – Katie Rentschler
The Woman King is in theaters now!
Leave a Comment