Dog’s Movie House: “The Woman King” a rousing historical epic full of action and heart!

Into this conflict come young Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) a young woman dropped off by her father at the gates of the palace becase she continually defies his expectations of proper behavior. It is in the Agojie training program in which she finds herself as a person. She is mentored not only by Nanisca, but by her close lieutenants Izogie (an amazing Lashana Lynch) and Amenza (Sheila Atim). Through her training and her bonds with her Agojie sisters, Nawi learns to find her voice and her strength, both of which will be necessary as the Agojie must defend the Dehomey from both the Ojo and the European slavers who seem to enjoy pitting the two kingdoms against each other.

There is so much to like about “The Woman King” to admire and enjoy. For all of the exhilarating action set pieces (especially in the film’s back half) Prince-Bythewood and writer Dana Stevens never let the spectacle undermine the drama. The conflicts, both personal and national, are always front and center and really power this film. This balance is tougher to achieve than it looks, and Bythewood does it beautifully. In many ways this is a conventional historical epic in terms of structure. This story has been told several times before, from “Gladiator” to “Braveheart” and “Troy” along with all of the popular sword and sandal epics of the 1950s and 60s. But what makes this work is the attention to detail and the differences in the African culture in 1823. The Dohomey are a proud people and very advanced in many ways, but are struggling with women’s role in society. In the world of “The Woman King” only the Agojie have equal footing with the men. If a woman is not of the Agojie, she is a second class citizen subjected to the often violent whims of their supposed male superiors.

Now this could simply be construed as a another example of “woke” culture but Prince-Bythwood and her scenarists, using the historical facts of the Agojie and of the time period in general, present this conflict in such a way that it feels natural and true and, as a result, more thought provoking than if the audience were beaten about the head and shoulders with the message. I can’t emphasize enough the deep emotional connection this film made with me, despite the fact that I am neither black or a woman. The idea of self-identity and pride is something every human being can relate to, and the emotional heft of “The Woman King” is what separates this film from others of its kind.

The cast is uniformly outstanding, with Davis and Mbedu being the standouts, but I especially enjoyed Lynch as Izogie, Nawi’s mentor and closest thing she has to a confidante at the beginning of her training. Izogie is a badass , sharpening her fingernails into claws and smiling a crazy smile that never quite reaches her eyes. Yet Izogie also shows tenderness and a wicked sense of humor when the smile does actually reach her eyes. Her scenes with both Nanisca and Nawi are among the best in the movie.

Rousing, thrilling, and surprisingly emotional, “The Woman King” is the rare epic that builds upon the historical fact and uses dramatic license to create an intensely personal and intense story that balances drama with spectacle. A true cinematic delight! 5 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!

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