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Film Talk: Latest Movie Releases – All hail the Kings with royal pair of fresh flicks

It’s a right regal round-up this week, with royalty dominating the latest film offerings.

Viola Davis as General Nanisca in director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s bruising, blood-smeared new drama, The Woman King
Viola Davis as General Nanisca in director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s bruising, blood-smeared new drama, The Woman King

Taking the top spot, director Gina Prince-Bythewood has stormed into cinemas with action-packed epic, The Woman King.

A tale of grit, determination and sacrifice, this one brings the fearsome West African warrior sisterhood of the Agojie to the big screen in a story of the 19th century slave trade and the conflict it spawned.

Starring American Academy Award-winner Viola Davies, Britain’s own John Boyega, and the rising South African talent of Thuso Mbedu, this powerful and provocative flick has been making critics sing this week, and cinemas across the land can expect their seats to be full of happy punters this weekend, whose desire for a historical epic that hits hard will be well sated.

Also keeping those trumpets ringing and royal banners flying, Stephen Frears is giving us his take on the incredible story of the King in the car park, with a comedy-drama nod to the 2012 discovery of Richard III’s remains.

For those unfamiliar with the incredible tale, the bones of England’s last Plantagenet ruler were found ten years ago (527 after his demise) beneath a Leicester car park. Here, with the help a script penned by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Frears brings us a fictionalised yarn charting the determination of the amateur historian who spearheaded the search for the lost monarch, in which she is even visited by the spectre of the man himself.

Starring Sally Hawkins of The Shape Of Water fame, this one will need a pinch of salt, but will doubtlessly delight many a cinema goer all the same. Let’s take a closer look at this week’s crowning glories...

THE WOMAN KING (15, 135 mins)

Released: October 4 (UK & Ireland)

A real-life military regiment of all-female African warriors, which inspired Wakanda’s valiant Dora Milaje in the Black Panther comics, angrily scythes through the 19th-century slave trade in a thrillingly orchestrated drama directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.

Punctuated by bruising, blood-smeared battle sequences on foot and horseback reminiscent of Braveheart, The Woman King canters roughshod over historical accuracy to fertilise a period of big screen representation and diversity that includes the action-packed blockbusters Black Adam and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Dana Stevens’ script sidesteps uncomfortable facts about the slave trade to simplify warring factions into good and evil, squarely positioning the audience behind the imperious title character portrayed by Oscar winner Viola Davis.

Her fiercely committed performance, which required months of weightlifting, fight training and stunt coordination, fills every frame and crescendos with an obligatory inspirational speech on the eve of battle (“We are the spear of victory, we are the blade of freedom!”).

Physicality of hand-to-hand combat contrasts with tender and moving scenes between Davis and sisters in arms, particularly South African rising star Thuso Mbedu, whose embodiment of a teenage orphan in control of her own destiny warrants a strong bid for a Best Supporting Actress nomination at next year’s Oscars.

King Ghezo (John Boyega) succeeds his brother on the throne of the West African kingdom of Dahomey, in direct opposition to the Oyo Empire.

The Oyo collaborate with white European traffickers and Ghezo pledges to atone for the sins of his sibling, who also traded slaves, by shifting focus to palm oil production and agriculture.

To repel the threat posed by enemy troops under the command of General Oba Ade (Jimmy Odukoya), Ghezo entrusts the kingdom’s fate to General Nanisca (Davis) and an all-female group of warriors called the Agojie.

The ranks of the Agojie include Nanisca’s confidante Amenza (Sheila Atim), strong-willed veteran Izogie (Lashana Lynch) and orphan Nawi (Mbedu), who has been disowned by her foster father for refusing to take a husband.

Nanisca’s harrowing past becomes entwined with Dahomey’s future as she moulds the next generation.

Meanwhile, spirited newbie Nawi gravitates towards occasionally shirtless and reluctant slave trader Malik (Jordan Bolger).

The Agojie’s heroic endeavours position Nanisca to stand alongside Ghezo as his equal but favoured wife Shante (Jayme Lawson) has the monarch’s ear and she is publicly opposed to changes that threaten her elevated position.

The Woman King delivers a rousing, blood-pumping spectacle, emboldened by a terrific ensemble cast that personifies sisterly solidarity.

Nawi’s romantic dalliance with Malik is extraneous but their sensual scenes counterbalance repeated flashbacks to a sexual assault.

Female characters are fully realised and actively propel the narrative forward with the same sense of chest plate-beating urgency as composer Terence Blanchard’s score.

For sweat-drenched self-sacrifice, Prince-Bythewood’s picture reigns.

THE LOST KING (12A, 108 mins)

Released: October 7 (UK & Ireland)

Sally Hawkins stars as Philippa Langley in The Lost King

One woman’s search for the truth unearths a historical treasure thought lost for more than 500 years in director Stephen Frears’s crowd-pleasing drama comedy.

Based on a script co-written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, The Lost King fictionalises headline-grabbing events from 2012 when the remains of Richard III were discovered beneath a car park in Leicester – an archaeological miracle spearheaded by amateur historian Philippa Langley.

From the opening title card – “Based on a true story. Her story” – Frears’s picture makes abundantly clear where its sympathies lie, portraying Philippa as a quietly spoken divorcee who overcomes scepticism from the academic community to restore Richard III’s place in royal history.

Unlike the team from University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), who were commissioned to dig, The Lost King operates predominantly at surface level, venerating Philippa at every feelgood turn and engineering some classic on-screen villainy in the form of the university’s director of corporate affairs and planning, Richard Taylor (Lee Ingleby).

Take plentiful pinches of salt as Coogan and Pope rewrite history.

One undeniable fact is a bravura central performance from Sally Hawkins as the driving force behind the exhumation.

Her body visibly thrums to convey Philippa’s daily battle with ME and Hawkins emotionally anchors the script’s attempts at magical realism in scenes of Philippa conversing with an apparition of the king.

VENGEANCE (15, 108 mins)

Released: October 7 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Vengeance: Boyd Holbrook as Ty Shaw and BJ Novak as Ben Manalowitz

Revenge is usually best served cold – at room temperature, at a push.

For his self-penned feature directorial debut, actor BJ Novak serves retribution piping hot with a side order of gallows humour against a backdrop of Texan oil fields and a close-knit community which meets condescension with a cheerfully curt, “well bless your heart!”

Vengeance is a smartly written murder mystery that hungrily sinks its teeth into lazy preconceptions about the second-largest state in America and spits out deadpan rebuttals with delicious rapidity.

Novak’s array of targets – which he hits with stinging efficiency – includes commitment-phobic serial daters, privileged white males, gun-toting rednecks, true crime podcasts, cultural appropriation and the scourge of social media.

New York journalist Ben Manalowitz (Novak) is asleep with another meaningless hook-up when his mobile phone skitters on the bedside table.

“This is the worst phone call you’re ever going to get in your life. Your girlfriend is dead!” sobs Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook), whose sister Abilene (Lio Tipton) has overdosed in a stretch of desert dubbed The Afterparty.

Ben and Abi were fleeting romance acquaintances – she is logged as Texas in his contacts list – but Abi’s family believes Ben was her long-distance boyfriend and he is guilt-tripped into attending the funeral.

Following the burial and a hastily improvised eulogy (“She will always be a song in our hearts”), Ben meets Ty and the clan including Abi’s mother Sharon (J Smith-Cameron), grandmother Carole (Louanne Stephens), sisters Kansas City (Dove Cameron) and Paris (Isabella Amara) and younger brother El Stupido (Eli Abrams Bickel).

The Shaws maintain Abi was murdered because she never took drugs.

Ben is persuaded to stay for a couple of weeks to gather material for a true crime series produced by industry heavyweight Eloise (Issa Rae).

As Ben observes, a dead white girl is “the holy grail of podcasts”.

Mexican drug dealer Sancholo (Zach Villa) is a prime suspect and Ty is ready to dole out vigilante justice.

“I don’t avenge deaths,” blusters Ben. “I don’t live in a Liam Neeson movie!”

Vengeance is scalpel-sharp and Novak repeatedly draws blood with barbed dialogue and keen observations on modern social dynamics.

The unedifying truth about Abi’s final hours emerges organically through streamlined storytelling, deep rooted in a deadly North American epidemic without any known vaccine.

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