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First Grader, The


Stars: Naomie Harris. Oliver Litondo, Tony Kgoroge, Nick Reding, Emily Njoki, Israel Makoe, Dan Ndambuki

Director: Justin Chadwick

Such 1950s' films as Simba and Something of Value told the story of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya largely from the British/white settler point of view, so The First Grader is a rarity that may raise a good few hackles as it puts forward the violence of those days as British suppression of Kenyan natives.

All films to date on the subject have ignored the atrocities committed by one side or the other, so the truth may be somewhere in the middle. In any event, this plays second fiddle here to the story of Kimani Maruge (a dignified portrayal by Litondo), an 84-year-old villager who, hearing of the government's declaration that education is now open to all, resolves to enrol at the local primary school, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

Rejected twice, Maruge makes his own 'uniform' and is finally taken on by inspirational head Jane (Harris) - but his presence at the school is resented by local parents and government officials alike. Trouble looms...

Although few of the children are allowed to emerge as individuals, there are good performances from the two leads, even if most the characters, past and present, are painted in brushstrokes that are rather too broad for the film's own good. But it is an extraordinary story and the more emotive moments inevitably score strongly.

David Quinlan

USA 2010. UK Distributor: Soda. Colour by Soho Film Lab.
103 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 21 Jun 2011