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MOVIES: The Woman King - Review

Viola Davis, megastar, what a movie! really recalls the grand epics of Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia, aching back to the good-old-adventure movies whilst breathing new life into original cinema. Following the Agojie and their leader, a group of warrior women, protectors of the the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s - The Woman King is a bloody, action-packed story that doubles as a telling of found family and reclamation.

The fighting and the combat in The Woman King is second to none and Gina Prince-Bythewood brings her experience from The Old Guard to the table this time working with a movie that looks and feels like a proper, made-for-cinema event spectacle. This thing flows - we learn the ways of the Agojie through a series of new recruits and the whole thing feels a bit like a YA novel-turned-to-film training exercise for a while; but the deeper the film progresses the more layers are peeled back beneath its surface and it becomes something much greater - a real, in-depth dive into these characters and why they are who they are, what makes them unique. Thuso Mbedu's Nawi, a fearless and rebellious new recruit who won't marry a man who her father tries to arrange for her - has a deeper bond with Davis' Nanisca than initially suggested - both characters share the screen with real presence; and the sheer charisma that both Davis and Mbedu bring to the role is unrivalled.

The weak link for me is perhaps the love scenes, they don't quite work as well as intended and Jordan Bolger's Malik feels a bit underdeveloped. The combat - despite having a bloody enough pass, could've been gorier - it feels very cut-for-general audience. But what we get is still visually impressive and a cinematic treat - Lashana Lynch as Nawi's mentor, izogie; is terrific with real depth afforded to all of these characters that give them time to show who they are - and John Boyega brings a sense of gracefulness and well, royalty - as King Ghezo, the leader of Dahomey. The dynamics between Ghezo and Nanisca is fascinating to watch unfold as the film treads into internal politics whilst realising the attitudes of the era - not really taking any side step to slow down, instead running headfirst straight through.

The actors' movement with their eyes tells you everything - Davis, Lynch, Mbedu, all spectacular - the expressions betray so much when words could not. Just an all round par de excellence, Polly Morgan's cinematography makes the most of a stellar colour palette, and the ever reliable Terence Blanchard shines with his score. Just an all-round success really. Hope it does well at the Oscars.

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