The Woman King: Blu Ray Review
Cast: Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, Thuso Mbedu, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, John Boyega
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Hailed as a cinematic moment for representation (which in of itself is depressing for 2022), Gina Prince-Bythewood's The Woman King is a based on history story that dips into melodrama for its emotion, when it doesn't really need to.
Set in the West African kingdom of Dahomey in 1823, the film centres around the all-female warrior group the Agojie, a brutally effective band trying to help John Boyega's King Ghezo prepare for war with their neighbours.
Led by Viola Davis' General Nanisca, the troupe is focused only on war and conflict, with contact with men banished and training the only thing they observe. But with Nanisca needing new recruits to train, Mbedu's Nawi finds herself under their command when her father kicks her out for refusing to marry.
The Woman King starts off superbly with some tautly choreographed battle elements feeling like anything Braveheart could muster. Fearsome, revered and focussed, the women are truly terrifying and led with Davis' intensity, the movie wastes no time on showing the cost of dedication and the price of shuttering oneself off.
Yet it lapses into an obvious melodrama as the conflict between Nanisca and Nawi heads down very familiar routes. Fortunately, while this can be seen a mile off, it helps that Davis' powerful performance and Mbedu's steely determination make this watchable enough fare.
The script follows a very familiar route - training montages, conflicts, betrayal and coming-of-age edges. It's a little too formulaic, even if what's injected into the proceedings feels fresh and different.
With a script that's unafraid to discuss and show sustained rape, there is a boldness here that's worth saluting, but the emotion sometimes feels like it's lacking - even if Lashana Lynch's more human turn proves to be more compelling in her relationship with Mbedu's Nawi, you can still spot what's coming a mile off.
Ultimately, whilst it's depressing that in 2022 the female-led and female narrative-led elements of The Woman King have to be saluted, the formidable force of innocence vs traumatised life makes for an engaging cinematic experience - albeit one whose story feels paradoxically cliched and yet somehow (thanks to the power of the lead actors) fresh at the same time.