Gina Prince-Bythewood’s epic historical drama shines bright with fierce direction and stellar performances.
The days of epic historical dramas have truly come and gone. From early Hollywood classics like Ben-Hur to contemporary epics like the Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. It’s a genre that used to dominate the cultural zeitgeist and the box office prominently. Consumer patterns started to switch past it when the age of the superhero movie began to take shape, and a once-grand successful genre became rare on the silver screen. Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel even though a masterfully crafted film, bombed at the box office causing us to evaluate whether historical epics will ever be successful in this modern landscape of Hollywood. Maybe it’s the oversaturation of Western and Northern European-focused historical films that have turned off audiences. That’s where Gina Prince-Bythewood’s newest film, The Woman King, comes into play and reinvigorates a once dominating genre.
The Woman King’s script is written by Dana Stevens from contributions via the story by Stevens and Maria Bello. The film stars Viola Davis (Fences, Widows), Thuso Mbedu (The Underground Railroad), Lashana Lynch (No Time To Die, Captain Marvel), Sheila Atim (Bruised, The Underground Railroad), and John Boyega (Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Force Awakens, Attack the Block). Gina Prince-Bythewood directs the film after her Netflix superhero film, The Old Guard. The Woman King made its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this year and has since been playing in cinemas worldwide. The film is well on its way to making its 50 million dollar budget back at the box office at the moment.
The Woman King concentrates on the Agojie, an all-woman warrior unit responsible for protecting The Dahomey Kingdom in West Africa during the 17th to 19th centuries. The Dahomey Kingdom is led by King Ghezo (John Boyega) in 1823 who is looking to expand his kingdom but is met with challenges by The Oyo Empire and their roles in The African Slave Trade with the Portuguese as described within the film. Nanisca (Viola Davis), the general of the Agojie and responsible for training the next generations of warriors as impending war looms over them. The Agojie takes in a young woman who refuses to marry abusive men picked by her father, with who Nanisca may have a close history. The plot revolves around the historical atmosphere of this incoming war, honor, love, and the sacrifices women must make to satisfy power dynamics.
Wrapped in its fierce direction, stellar cinematography, and monumental performances, The Woman King, is a grand achievement from Gina Prince-Blythewood and her extraordinary team. Viola Davis steals the show with one of her best performances along with her counterparts Thosu Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, and John Boyega. The atmosphere and locale of The Kingdom of Dahomey are one of exquisite production design, sets, and rich costuming that is bound for Academy Award consideration. It is from the get-go that you are invested in this story and I found myself falling more in love with the aura of Prince-Blythewood’s picture. It feels like the epic it deserves to be with the help of some of the best-looking fight sequences I have seen this year. The Woman King is brutal jaw-dropping cinema that cements itself as one of the best films of this year. I eagerly anticipate the many nominations that will follow this marvelous piece of art. Polly Morgan’s cinematography paired with one of the best scores of the year by Terence Blanchard creates an environment like no other.
The film meanders a bit during its second act, but it recuperates with a masterful and emotional third act. There are not a lot of things to fault the film for other than its pace. It’s a film worthy of your trip to the nearest cinema to watch. I hope for nothing but success for this film once awards season starts to ramp up!