The Woman King starring Viola Davis as the title character, is a historical drama that talks about the victory of a tribe against slave traders in the 18th century. While the movie feels very authentic in terms of portraying the ritualistic lifestyle and sacrifices of the warriors of the Dahomey kingdom, the detailing feels a bit flat here and there. Despite getting some really great performances from its key cast, The Woman King is not able to move you beyond the documentation part.
Set in the 18th century, we are talking about the Dahomey kingdom under King Ghezo. Nanisca is the King’s general, and she has protected her people till that point from the Oyo empire. After a new warrior named Nawi enters the force, Nanisca gets the information that the Oyo are planning a massive attack against Dahomey. How the outnumbered warriors of Dahomey, who are called Agojie, faced this challenge with their grit and intelligence is what you see in The Woman King.
Even though it is set in the past, there is definitely a political context to this film that has to do with gender and race. And the good thing about the film is that director Gina Prince-Bythewood is not trying to slap those thoughts on your face to make it a lecture. But somewhere, I felt the drama in the movie lacked conviction. The actors perform the past trauma of Nanisca, the rage in Nawi, etc., neatly. But the writing is so invested in covering the action that the film doesn’t give you a space to feel the struggle of these people.
Viola Davis as Nanisca delivers a spectacular performance. The physically tough character has her moments of vulnerability, and Viola Davis transitioned into those emotional spaces believably. Thuso Mbedu as Nawi actually has equal importance and screen space in the film, and she also delivered a riveting performance. Lashana Lynch as Izogie and Sheila Atim as Amenza were also memorable. I found the performance of John Boyega a bit too caricature-like. The “acting” was somewhere visible in his efforts to look like a king.
Gina Prince-Bythewood creates the world of the Agojie convincingly. Their methods, hard work, and discipline look very real on screen. But the drama in writing is predictable, and to make the story compelling for the viewer, a certain level of pace and depth was required in the narrative. The absence of that makes you sit through the film almost like a documentary until the final act gets that much-needed cinematic aesthetic. Polly Morgan opts for a more agile and close visual, even for the combat sequences.
Performances are definitely the highlight of The Woman King. With a screenplay that couldn’t balance action and drama convincingly, The Woman King becomes this inconsistent historical drama that feels more like a documentation than a movie with absorbing craft.
With a screenplay that couldn't balance action and drama convincingly, The Woman King becomes this inconsistent historical drama that feels more like a documentation than a movie with absorbing craft
Green: Recommended Content
Orange: The In-Between Ones
Red: Not Recommended