The First Grader
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 13th November 2011
Another returning hit from the NZ film festival, The First Grader is an undeniably charming and at times harrowing tale. It earned praise and a place in viewers’ hearts.
Set in a remote village in Kenya, the government declares that all citizens who possess a birth certificate will be henceforth entitled to free education. As scores of tiny children pour off buses at a rickety camp of classrooms, 84-year-old Maruge fronts up at the school gates. Despite protestations from those in charge, his persistence pays off and he starts learning to read and write, under the tutelage of the sympathetic Naomie Harris (28 Days Later). Maruge is haunted, however, by his country’s violent history in which he fought British colonial rule and suffered for it.
Justin Chadwick, fresh from directing a whole lot of British telly and the movie version of The Other Boleyn Girl, makes impressive use of the African backdrop and photogenic cast, eliciting lovely performances from Kenyan broadcaster Oliver Litondo as Maruge and British actress Harris as his schoolteacher. It’s straightforward in its telling, but energetically and passionately played.