The Woman King cooks up a storm of historical drama, muscular action and memorable performances. Set in the early 19th century, the movie explores a little-known (at least to us in the UK) chapter in African history, in the process bringing audiences a feast for the senses and the emotions.
With the movie on release now at Cineworld, here's what you need to know about it.
What is the story of The Woman King?
The Woman King dramatises the real-life West African Kingdom of Dahomey (present-day Benin). The movie brings to life Dahomey's ferocious, all-female fighting force, the Agojie, who are compelled to protect the kingdom from outside influence.
The movie takes place in 1823 when the rival kingdoms, including Dahomey's rival, the Oyo Empire, have started to trade with TransAtlantic slave traders. With the various African factions on the brink of war, King Ghezo (John Boyega) and his trusted advisor General Nanisca (Viola Davis) must work harder than ever to keep the peace.
Who stars in The Woman King?
The commanding Viola Davis, Oscar winner for the Denzel Washington-directed Fences, plays the fierce Nanisca. Throughout the course of the movie, we learn more about the pain and anguish behind Nanisca's facade, including her tragic connection to the Oyo and its ensuing impact on Nanisca's relationship with new Agojie recruit Nawi.
The latter is portrayed by Thuso Mbedu, a relative newcomer from South Africa whose roles include the acclaimed Colson Whitehead adaptation The Underground Railroad, which was directed by Moonlight filmmaker Barry Jenkins.
The excellent cast also comprises the aforementioned John Boyega, who has come off his Star Wars tenure to deliver strong performances in the likes of this movie and the harrowing Detroit.
No Time To Die's Lashana Lynch portrays Agojie member Izogie and Ugandan-British actor Shelia Atim portrays another Agojie warrior, Amenza. The latter was also seen in The Underground Railroad.
Watch the following video to discover Davis' thoughts on joining the project, and its importance in showcasing women of colour on the big screen.
Who directs The Woman King?
The Woman King is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood who has made several progressive films on the topics of race and gender. In 2000, she made the well-received sports drama Love and Basketball, following it up with the Charlize Theron action vehicle The Old Guard in 2020. The latter gained attention for its positive inclusion of a male gay couple in the midst of massive action scenes.
The Woman King's initial story outline came from actor Maria Bello (A History of Violence) and Dana Stevens before it was fleshed out by Stevens solo.
How did the cast train for The Woman King?
Watch the following video to discover how Davis and her fellow actors got into shape to portray the fiercely committed Agojie warriors.
What have critics said about The Woman King?
The Woman King has received critical acclaim although some critics have questioned its relationship to historical fact, particularly in how the film portrays Dahomey's relationship with the slave trade.
The movie currently sports an impressive 94% aggregate rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it's expected that Davis will be Oscar-nominated for her role as Nanisca. (Discover our Oscars 2023 Best Actress predictions.)
Writes Wendy Ide for The Guardian: "Muscular in its action sequences, sweeping in scope; a big, flexing, show-off spectacle of a movie. The Woman King is the kind of historical epic that just doesn’t get made any more. And with a superb cast predominantly composed of Black women, it’s also a film that has never been made before. Gina Prince-Bythewood may not exactly rewrite the cinematic language of the action movie – there’s plenty in her approach that will seem familiar – but she does reclaim and revitalise it."
Did The Woman King screen in advance for Cineworld Unlimited members?
Yes it did, and you can discover their responses by clicking here.