The Woman King film review by Gina Prince-Bythewood with Viola Davis and Lashana Lynch

The Woman King review movie of Gina Prince-Bythewood with Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, Thuso Mbedu, Sheila Atim And John Boyega

After The Old Guard, Gina Prince-Bythewood is back and, with it, its distinctive militant cinema.

The story of The Woman King, set in the early nineteenth century, develops around Dahomey, the only African kingdom whose military force was made up largely of women, the dreaded Agojie. Let’s say right away that the combat dynamics, already quite delicate in any action film, are perfectly choreographed and the clash between the Agojie women and the male armies of the hostile kingdoms always appears credible: the painstaking technical preparation of the Amazon army manages always to compensate, on a cinematographic level, the difference in muscles with the male opponents, avoiding any objection from any spectators who are particularly concerned about the film’s fidelity to physical military combat.

Nanisca (Viola Davis), Izogie (Lashana Lynch) and new recruits Agojie in The Woman King
Nanisca (Viola Davis), Izogie (Lashana Lynch) and new recruits Agojie in The Woman King (credits: TriStar Pictures/Sony Pictures)

Everything is enhanced by the exquisite amalgam of direction, photography and scenography, whose precision and quality immediately give the feeling of a real blockbuster. It is precisely in the fights that these formal components give their best, thanks to the rawness of the choreography, the skill of the actors (and stunt-men) involved and the coherence of the setting. Also worth mentioning are the numerous dance scenes and tribal calls, in which the soundtrack and direction reach the ideal emotional temperature to immerse themselves in the story.

The star is undoubtedly the monumental Viola Daviswho was assigned a simply perfect role for her interpretative characteristics: the character of Nanisca – general of the Agojie in the service of King Ghezo (John Boyega) – is the ideal synthesis of the numerous roles played during Davis’ glittering career, who again manages to convey both firmness and fragility in the same exquisite performance.

Nanisca (Viola Davis) leads her army (front row Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim, second row Sisipho Mbopa, Lone Motsomi, Chioma Umeala)
Nanisca (Viola Davis) leads her army (front row Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim, second row Sisipho Mbopa, Lone Motsomi, Chioma Umeala – credits: TriStar Pictures/Sony Pictures)

On a narrative level The Woman King only partially convincing, due to a second section in which the screenplay (written by Dana Stevens from a story of Mary Bello – the protagonist of A History of Violence who makes her debut here as an author) seems to take refuge behind numerous clichés dear to the genre, resulting excessively predictable and annoyingly at odds with the freshness of the themes at stake. Furthermore, the insertion of several narrative lines inevitably leaves some of them in the unpleasant terrain of superficiality; in this sense we could mention the improbable love storywhich fails neither the task of moving us, nor even less of answering an important existential question introduced towards the middle of the film.

Despite this, the film has other precious arrows to its bow, among which we can mention the meticulous writing of the relationships between the protagonists (Nanisca/Viola Davis are flanked by the warriors Nawi, Izogie and Amenza, played respectively by Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch And Sheila Atim): the psychological characterization of the main characters is constantly evolving and this gives the film the precious power to excite from the first to the last minute.

Thuso Mbedu plays Nawi in The Woman King.
Thuso Mbedu plays Nawi in The Woman King (credits: TriStar Pictures/Sony Pictures)
Izogie (Lashana Lynch) is not intimidated in The Woman King
Izogie (Lashana Lynch) is not intimidated in The Woman King (credits: TriStar Pictures/Sony Pictures)

Who expected from Gina Prince-Bythewood a action would be disappointed: instead we believe that the intention of the New York director was to excite us by making us think and, in this case, net of some obvious problems, we consider ourselves fully satisfied by The Woman King.

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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