79. The First Grader (2010)

Back to school

8/10
Directed by: Justin Chadwick
Written by: Ann Peacock
Starring: Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge and Nick Reding

Not too old for the alphabet

When an 84 year old man enrols into a small makeshift primary school in Kenya with the hopes of someday reading and writing, the saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ becomes obsolete. Determined to get an education before it’s too late, Maruge steadily wins the hearts of students and teachers who fight for his right to stay in school and eventually read a long-awaited letter that bears significance to his painful past in British colonial rule some fifty years ago.

The First Grader is a moving film that does well in balancing feel-good inspiration with the deeply confronting memories of a colonial violence that have not only left scars on Margue physically and mentally, but also within the attitudes that make a nation. By joining the brutality of history with hopeful optimism for a brighter and better future, The First Grader’s encouragement of education and its emphasis on themes of faith, perseverance and love are effectively conveyed against the risks and dangers that the characters face.

Directed by Justin Chadwick (who was also responsible for The Other Boleyn Girl), The First Grader finds detailed, textured and visually unique scenes within a seemingly barren and bare landscape whilst simultaneously bringing lively animation and passion to the story through its performances. While some of the dramatic dialogue and emotive moments can occasionally fall into predictable cheesiness and unexciting results, the film is consistent in immersing itself within engaging conflict and challenges to Margue’s ambitions. In this way, The First Grader holds our attention to the very end of the film, and leaves us feeling incredibly light and optimistic despite the heaviness of some of its themes and ideas.

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