The Woman King poster

“We are the spear of victory, we are the blade of freedom, we are Dahomey!”


A historical epic about the Agojie, the all-women warriors of the Dahomey tribe, The Woman King follows in the wake of Black Panther in its celebration of vibrant African culture within a big budget action film. The focus on the training and exploits of these warriors against an existential threat to the Dahomey bears considerable similarity to 300 — there is breadth to the story if not depth. Thematically, The Woman King directly tackles the transatlantic slave trade and the murky lines in African complicity pressured by colonial incursion. The kinetic close-quarters combat is well choreographed, although frequent cuts around the battlefield can make the action hard to follow. It is always pleasing, however, to see darker skin tones shot well in low light. The Woman King‘s real strength lies in its performances, led by Viola Davis as the deeply conflicted general beneath her cold exterior, ably challenged by newcomer Thuso Mbedu. The slow start allows the development of the interrelated personal themes of pride — earned and demanded — and the attempt to sever oneself from a painful past. John Boyega is clearly in his element as the reformer king (putting aside questions of historical accuracy of the individual in favour of a more nuanced examination of slavery and colonialism). Historical epics were once a mainstay of tentpole summer releases, and The Woman King provides the essential ingredients of engaging personal stories within impressive sets and rousing battles.