Based on actual events set in Africa around the 18th century, Agojie is a team of women warriors who protect the Kingdom of Dahomey. These women are highly trained, extraordinarily fierce and will do anything to protect those they serve and the people of Dahomey. The Agojie leader, Nanisca (Viola Davis), is a physically and mentally strong woman who displays boldness and courage in her calls for King Ghezo (John Boyega).
After Nanisca and her fellow warriors invade a campsite and rescue slaves, they learn more about their current enemy, including that they now carry weapons such as guns and are equipped with horses. Guns and horses are things that Dahomey does not use or have access to. Now the enemy of Dahomey is more powerful than ever, putting Dahomey at significant risk. Nanisca and her fellow warriors continue to take in new faces, training and moulding them to become warriors. One of these young girls is Nawi (Thuso Mdebu), who refuses a forced marriage with a man who is not only old but also highly abusive. As a result, Nawi’s father gives her to the king instead. Now, Nawi must train and learn with her fellow members and prepare for the ultimate battle for the sake of Dahomey.
The Woman King is best described as a dramatic history film. The film contains action moments in a style reminiscent of Gladiator (2000), and there isn’t an extensive use of blood or gore here. Instead, the film’s tone and dramatic story create unsettling moments of tension. To my surprise, there are some moments of mystery, especially regarding Nanisca’s past and the upcoming warriors. These reveals were unexpected and unpredictable, heightening the story and increasing engagement from the audience.
The performances here are powerful. Viola Davis is delivering a role unlike anything we’ve ever seen from her. While the actress always carries a strong screen presence no matter the film, it was truly delightful to see her tackle this character. Her character is given lots of dialogue that is always delivered powerfully, mainly as she trains newcomer Nawi. The side performance of Thuso Mdedu as Nawi is excellent as the audience discovers Dahomey through her eyes. Audiences also share her journey as she rediscovers herself and the strength within herself regardless of the past. I also admired Lashana Lynch’s performance as Izogie, and she delivers a character who is a mentor and warrior. I can’t deny that Lashana Lynch successfully brought a few comedic moments. Her unique, dramatic role was a significant praise point. The music score is uplifting and feels fitting throughout. Both dramatic moments and battle scenes are filled with a musical score that made me want to seek out the soundtrack. Costume designs are praise-worthy, and I found this area quite impressive.
As for any negatives with the film, there are sadly a couple of minor issues for me. Firstly, the film includes an unnecessary romance subplot with Nawi’s character, which seems to take up a fair bit of time. Speaking of time, I must also confess that I did check my watch at least once. Between the second and third acts, the film dragged far longer than I preferred, and the final moments felt like a struggle, almost as if the film were unsure how to end before the credits began to roll.
Overall, packed with a powerful leading performance from actress Viola Davis and various impressive side performances, The Woman King, is a touching and gripping story with many pleasing and uplifting themes. The story is easy to invest in, and audiences are introduced to a convincing time period thanks to stunning costumes and a praiseworthy soundtrack. It was a pleasant surprise that this film managed to sneak in a few unexpected reveals; however, the runtime is noticeable, and I checked my wristwatch between the second and third acts. There’s also a subplot that drags the film on unnecessarily, and the final moments seem unsure of themselves. Nevertheless, with so much strength on-screen, I can’t deny The Woman King is still a wonderfully made film. I found myself feeling rather impressed by the entire cinematic experience.