There have been a lot of historical epics over the years from the perspective of men and their kingdoms or places that they rule. There haven’t been many from the perspective of women. The occasional Queen Elizabeth it’s sequel or Messenger The Story of Joan of Arc or even Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor back in the 60s have graced the big screen. The latest in a small number of historical epics featuring women is The Woman King starring Viola Dais in the lead role as the titular woman king.
Nanisca( Viola Davis) is a general of the Kingdom of the Dahomey people. A tribe in West Africa in the 1800s. The Agojie is an all-female warrior unit that defends this kingdom to its death. When a leader of another tribe threatens their way of existence the general and her warriors have to defend their kingdom at all costs. Risking her place beside King Ghezo (John Boyega) in the process. She also has a new upstart who’s headstrong that she has to train, Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) Who causes her own share of problems within the tribe.
This film has a great cast besides the fantastic actors I already mentioned. Lashana Lynch plays Izogie a fierce warrior who is very confident in her abilities. She takes young Nawi under her wing. Sheila Atim plays Amenaza, a confidant and friend of the general. She is also a very fierce warrior. And Hero Fiennes Tiffin and Jordan Bolger play Portuguese traders who have more than a passing interest in the women of the Dahomey tribe.
Maria Bello and Dana Stevens developed this story after visiting this area on vacation; they were so enamored with the idea of an all-women tribe of warriors that they wanted to bring it to the big screen. With the help of Gina Prince-Blythewood, they have achieved that very thing. This film has a fantastic story I wasn’t aware of before seeing it. And the visual style that Blythewood chose to film it in made it all that much better. The bright beautiful colors during the day were in contrast with the darkness and sharpness of the night but were equally stunning. The cinematography by Polly Morgan was gorgeous.
Like most epic films there are subplots about characters who have different motivations for the kingdom of their own. In the case of this film there are a few characters that have plans for the kingdom and how that plays into the overall context of the film is very satisfying. Same as today though these countries and leaders have different thoughts on how things should be done. They have ambitions of their sometimes unbeknownst to the king or president if you will. There is a political undertone that goes on more often than not in these situations.
Besides the look of the film, there is also the costuming and hair styling that make these characters look the way they do in the film. Gerda Phillips and Louisa V. Anthony and her team do an incredible job turning these actors into these fighting men and women and leaders and their followers. These actors looked incredible in these outfits and they all looked unique on their own to make them all stand out but also they had to look like a unit and that worked out very well as far as the costumes went. This is first-rate costuming and hairstyling that should get some awards buzz come awards season which is around the corner.
As with the other craft departments in the film, the fight combination in this film is on par with any film I’ve seen in recent years dealing with battles or hand-to-hand combat. These actors had to go through extensive fight choreography to capture the look and style of these women. They were vicious fighters with and without weapons in their hands and the fight sequences were amazing. Even training and dancing scenes looked to be choreographed impeccably by this team. These women looked and felt like vicious fighting machines from behind to end in this film. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed watching them fight and kill their prey with ease. It seemed to look easy for them which I know it wasn’t. That is owed to the entire fight choreography team involved in the movie.
The Woman King is the first legitimate awards season contender for best picture. It has a compelling story while also having fantastic performances from Davis, Lynch, Atim, and Mbedu. The writing, by Bello and Stevens, and direction, by Blythewood, are first-rate. The fight choreography and the fight scenes were something amazing to look at. And all the characters looked the part of these people from this era in time. The movie also looked gorgeous from a cinematography aspect. I’m just glad to see an original film with a story I haven’t heard of before that I could be completely invested in and enjoy. . These people involved were passionate about the film which is shown in the final product. This is a legitimate awards contender in many categories and I’ll be waiting with bated breath to see what happens come awards season.
Dan Skip Allen