Gina Prince-Bythewood and her husband, Reggie, are two names that I have admired for a number of years. Their involvement in projects from “Notorious,” “Love and Basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” “The Old Guard,” and even shows like “A Different World,” could put them in the category of most underrated filmmakers, writers, and producers in the industry. If that status does not change for her with “The Woman King,” it will be nothing short of a travesty.
The always amazing Viola Davis stars in this based-on-true-events story as Nanisca, the leader of the king’s (John Boyega’s Ghezo) all-female guard known as the Agojie in the West African kingdom of Dahome during the 1820s. The slave trade is at an all-time high with another warrior tribe abducting and selling their people to Europeans coming through their harbor. As the conflict escalates, a young rebellious girl named Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) joins the ranks in order to make a better life for herself and help defend their kingdom against all that would threaten their way of life.
I cannot say this simply enough: THIS FILM WORKS ON EVERY LEVEL. From Bythewood’s vision to its epic scale of color and cinematography to a script that is engaging from beginning to end and performances that should have nominations and award wins coming to it by the metric ton, “The Woman King” hits all of the right beats of action, drama, and all of the feels. Davis continues to cement her legacy as one of the great actors of our time in a performance that shows the courage, toughness, and maternal instincts that a character like Nanisca requires that had me completely bought in while a supporting cast like Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, and Jimmy Odukoya stake their claim as names you should (and after this have to) know. Mbedu also shines fresh off of her performance in “The Underground Railroad” as the young girl who refuses to “accept her role” within her people and longs to be more even to the point of pure defiance.
Given the way this film is shot, it would almost be a disservice to it to not see it in the largest screen possible. It would still be amazing to watch in your own home, but the scale here should be taken in (including the audio) in the best presentation available. Personally, I have every intention to see it again in a Dolby Atmos auditorium at a minimum of not in an IMAX and take in the majesty and pure amazement that is “The Woman King”.