Josh Barton’s review published on Letterboxd:
Her reign begins.
There's always been a penchant for historical epics in Hollywood, just not one quite like The Woman King. Times have changed though, Gina Prince-Bythewood's film putting a black, all-female warrior unit front and centre, and the results are utterly spectacular.
In the 1800s, a group of all-female warriors protects the African kingdom of Dahomey with skills and fierceness unlike anything the world has ever seen. Faced with a new threat, General Nanisca (Viola Davis) trains the next generation of recruits to fight against a foreign enemy that's determined to destroy their way of life.
You can feel the power of this film from its opening sequence, Nanisca and her group of warriors rising from a patch of long grass to unleash havoc on a number of men responsible for raiding their village. They cut imposing figures amongst such lush surroundings, intimidating the men in the process. It's what Prince-Bythewood handles so well in The Woman King, making these women so fierce and superior in battle with some incredibly dynamic action sequences that feature some impeccable fight choreography.
The core group of women are integral to the film's success and while it's fantastic seeing them bring it in battle, it's also great to see them live and train together, bonds forming and the barriers being broken down to reveal some truly tender moments between characters. Dana Stevens' screenplay backs up the action brilliantly, making this a film that definitely delivers both in terms of narrative and spectacle.
Shooting on location works wonders for the film too, Polly Morgan's stellar work on the cinematography bringing the African landscape to life and creating a sense of realism for the battle sequences. Terence Blanchard's score feels accomplished as it accompanies proceedings, percussion hitting hard during the battles and softer melodies as some Agojie members bond over unexpected occurrences. The Woman King is a fine example of visuals and sound combining to great effect.
Indeed the best thing about The Woman King are its performances, particularly from the core group of women, all fearless in their approach. Viola Davis is an absolute force to be reckoned with as Nanisca, leading the Agojie with a fierce presence and powerful frame that fills the screen throughout. Lashana Lynch exudes confidence as Izogie while Sheila Atim also provides an emotional pillar for Nanisca to lean on. It's Thuso Mbedu who impressed me the most though, her ability to deliver such a powerful performance with such a small frame making her one to certainly look out for in the future, this being her feature film debut a great start for sure. All of them clearly put in the hours of training to deliver such committed physical performance and it shows. John Boyega plays King Ghezo with quite a humorous nature however it never crosses the line into becoming a bit of a panto performance.
The Woman King is simply one of the most thrilling films of the year, Viola Davis leading the charge in Gina Prince-Bythewood's blistering epic that proves there's most definitely a place at the table for women when it comes to bringing power to the big screen.
Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, Thuso Mbedu and Sheila Atim. These women bring the power in Gina Prince-Bythewood's The Woman King , a historic epic that puts the women front and centre to deliver one of the most thrilling films of the year. Loved it!