Movie Reviews

The First Grader: Top Marks

By inSing EditorMovies - 02 September 2011 2:43 PM | Updated 3:09 PM

The First Grader: Top Marks

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

The Stars: Naomie Harris, Oliver Litondo

The Story: The true story of an 84 year-old Kenyan villager and ex-Mau Mau freedom fighter who fights for his right to go to school for the first time to get an education.

The Buzz: Winner of several awards, including Best Film at the Palm Beach International Film Festival.

inSing says: Though often heavy-handed, this docu drama about the importance of education is strengthened by great performances from the two main leads as it digs deep into a part of Kenyan history.

The First Grader

Maruge (Litondo) is the 84-year old Kenyan villager who turns up at a primary school, desperate to learn. Jane (Harris), moved by Maruge’s sincerity, allows him a spot in the class despite the overcrowded conditions. However, not all are happy with Maruge being accepted into the school.

Tribal prejudices still run deep in the country, and the altruistic Jane finds herself the target of threats, even as forces comply to keep Maruge out of school.

The story flashes back to Maruge’s early days, when he fought against the British and their oppressive ways. British director Justin Chadwick does not dampen the blow of the cruelties inflicted on Maruge during British rule, and Maruge’s treatment is harrowing.

The storyline otherwise overplays certain dramatics, and parts of it feel contrived, as it strives for the big moment. Nonetheless, Litondo and Harris’ performances are powerful and give this film its heart.