The Woman King (Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray)

A historical epic inspired by true events that took place in The Kingdom of Dahomey, one of the most powerful states of Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries.

January 6, 2023 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

A few months ago I was on Facebook and I posted some smartass comment about The Woman King. I said something along the lines of “…isn’t a woman king a queen?” It sounded funny at the time and as I’ve done for the majority of my life, I tend to do/say things just to amuse myself. And, after that, I really didn’t think of the movie again until Sony sent me a copy for review. I was intrigued, but it still sat on my “to be reviewed” pile of discs that occupy a constant spot in my office. However after reading a few reviews, and seeing that the movie was written by Maria Bello after a trip to Africa, my curiosity was piqued. Throw in director Gina Prince-Bythewood, who directed one of my personal favorites – Love & Basketball, and I had 135 minutes of my life spoken for.

Set in the early 19th century, the film brings to life the story of the Agojie, a group of female warriors who protected the African kingdom of Dahomey. It’s 1823 and the booing European slave trade is upsetting the balance of power in West Africa. Fearsome General Nanisca (Viola Davis) is looking to train the next generation of the Agojie troops, focusing on a newer recruit named Nawi (Thuso Mbedu). Fate has set these two women on a path with the Agojie. Nanisca is on a journey to rediscover who she used to be before her days as a warrior, but she sees something in Nawi. Add to this that a new king, Ghezo (Joh Boyega), has just ascended to power in Dahomey and are under attack from the Oyo Empire who have been pillaging Dahomey villages using proxies to sell the people to the Europeans as slaves.

There are several things about the film that I find fascinating…First, it’s actually very historically accurate. I won’t say you could pass your African history test after watching the movie, but this wasn’t just pulled out of thin air. Second, the film got a standing ovation at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), then was subsequently released to theaters where social media got a hold of it asking people to boycott the film. Yes, really. Looking at the film from the actors points of view, it’s pretty amazing. Viola Davis is the centerpiece of the film and in a career punctuated with so many great performances, it’s hard to pick out her best. This might be that role. It’s easy to dismiss this film as an “empowerment” movie, but there’s so much more to it. The writing, acting and directing are all top notch and it’s one of those that I’m glad I gave a chance. You should too.

Video: How’s it look?

There are a lot of similarities with The Woman King to other films of the same genre, namely Black Panther. Clearly (pardon the obligatory pun) has a lot to live up to. This is the 4K version reviewed though the set contains a fairly attractive Blu-ray, too. That said, the 2.39:1 HEVC 4K image leaves little to the imagination. The texture in the costumes/outfits, the contrast and the sprawling landscape all look, well, marvelous. Compared to the Blu-ray, the Ultra HD version has a noticeable uptick in detail, contrast and the HDR really help establish the expansive color palette. Like other films of this genre, all of which have set the standard visually, I feel that there will be few who won’t be impressed by this presentation.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Likewise, the Ultra HD contains a Dolby Atmos sound mix whose atmospheric soundstage, at times, shakes the room. It’s a bit disappointing that the Blu-ray doesn’t contain this mix and is instead stuck with a DTS HD Master Audio. Granted that sounds – by no means – bad by any stretch, but still…Vocals are rich, sharp and crisp here while the front stage finds itself smack in the middle of the action on multiple occasions. The surrounds, all of them, get in on things and make for a very action-oriented, and active soundstage. You’ll know what to expect when you put the disc in here, folks. It delivers.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Audio Commentary – Director Gina Prince-Bythewood and Editor Terilyn A. Shropshire combine for a pretty interesting track. The usual boxes are checked with the inspiration coming from Maria Bello’s trip to Africa, details about the shoot, the stunts and everything between. For those that might be interested – this is a great listen.
  • A Caterpillar’s Destruction: Viola Davis On Set – We get a look at the casting as well as some of the physical requirements the actors had do go through for their roles.
  • Woman/Warrior – Essentially more of the same, with additional praise lauded on director Bythewood.
  • Storytellers – Again, another look at some of the etymology of the film and its roots.
  • Representation Matters – This is probably the best “all around” supplement and covers all the bases from the historical accuracy, the casting, real-life dangers and so on.
  • Thuso Mbedu – Auditions – If you want to see how she got the part, look no further.

The Bottom Line

I’ll be the first to admit that when I first saw the trailer for this film, my eyes kind of rolled. But I’m all about giving movies a chance and, despite my initial impression, I’ll fully admit that I was wrong. The Woman King actually surprised me, though I’m not sure I’d call it (as the box mentions) it’s the “Gladiator of our time.” But it’s worth a watch nonetheless. Sony’s disc is, of course, spot on.

Disc Scores