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The First Grader
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Reviews & Ratings for
The First Grader More at IMDbPro »

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21 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

A fine film, but not a feel-good movie for kids

8/10
Author: Red-125 from Upstate New York
8 June 2011

The First Grader (2010), directed by Justin Chadwick, is a serious and important film that is being advertised as a feel-good movie, suitable for kids. It's an excellent movie, but not for kids. The film is a portrayal of the true story of Kimani N'gan'ga Maruge, an 84-year-old Kenyan man who successfully enrolled in a first grade.

Maruge is a former Mau-Mau revolutionary and prisoner of war. He was horribly tortured by the British army, but his spirit was never broken. When the Kenyan government announces "free education for all," he accepts this literally and tries to enroll in the first grade.

This neglect of former revolutionaries has occurred in many countries, and, at least in the film, Kenya is no exception. As portrayed in the movie, the Kenyan government officials aren't that different from the British colonial officials, except for skin color. They're certainly not enthusiastic about large numbers of adults following Maruge's example and enrolling in school.

The film is overly simplistic at times. The behavior of the dedicated teacher who accepts Maruge in her class is too good to be true, and the other education officials are all "bad-guy" cardboard cutouts. A subplot involving the teacher (Jane Obinchu) and her husband is contrived and leads nowhere.

The torture scenes are horribly graphic and almost certainly realistic. (See the entry about Kenya in Wikipedia for the terrible details.) Those scenes make the movie completely unsuitable for children, in my opinion.

The film is still worth seeing because it is based on a true event. Who cannot be moved by an 84-year-old who is determined to read? In addition, the acting by the two principals, Naomie Harris as the teacher Jane Obinchu, and Oliver Litondo as Kimani Manuge is superb.

Although the film will work better on a large screen, it will definitely be worth seeing on DVD as well. Seek it out--it's worth the effort.

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20 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

Important film. Not to be missed!

10/10
Author: rfurbert from United States
29 May 2011

I just saw this movie yesterday, and I felt that it was so well made, so touching, so inspiring, and so important. It is a rare kind of movie that teaches you history, shows you other people's struggles, and moves you emotionally because it captures the strength of the human spirit.

This movie is important because it shows that it is possible to overcome adversity and makes you believe that it is never too late to attain those things that are valuable to you. It also really brings into focus the power and importance of education.

I'm really glad that I saw this movie, and I hope that many other people will go see it as well.

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19 out of 25 people found the following review useful:

I just saw this film at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival.

10/10
Author: Alan Hudson from Qatar
31 October 2010

I just saw this film, yesterday, at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival.

I think this is the first time that I can say that a film has had a profound affect upon me. It's a fantastic story, and what makes it all the more amazing, as confirmed by Justin Chadwick at the festival, everything you see in the film is true and actually happened.

I am not ashamed to admit that I was moved to tears, and these were not tears of joy. Emotionally, this is a heavyweight amongst films.

The film also left me not being very proud to be British. It covers, in flash back, a part of our history that I am sure most of my fellow countrymen would wish had never happened.

I would strongly recommend that every Britain and every Kenyan watches this film. It will move them all to tears, and teach us all lessons we should not forget for the future.

If you do go to watch it, take plenty of handkerchiefs. You'll need them!

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11 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Opportunity to learn about powerful piece of African History-don't miss it

8/10
Author: FilmRap from Los Angeles
5 May 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

We take for granted that everyone in this country is entitled to an education. We especially can appreciate it when we see it through the eyes of eager children trying to learn the their ABCs in a dusty one room class room in Kenya where the government has decreed, for the first time, the right of everyone to be educated. We are taken to a new level of appreciation when we see it from the point of view of an 85 year old man Kimani Ng'ang'a Maruge (Oliver Musila Litondo) who is determined to join this class and get the education he never had and learn to read. This is based a true story of a man who became a national hero in Kenya and a symbol of the universal desire for education as his quest ultimately brought the real Maruge from his country village to address the United Nations. However important this theme may be, there also was another story going on here. This proud man had been part of Kikuyu tribe, which produced the Mau-Mau rebellion, which ultimately led to the Kenyan independence from British colonial rule. He demands and gets the respect as others realize that he had been one of freedom fighters who took a sacred oath to return the land controlled by the British back to the native people. As a young man he endured torture and witnessed the death of his wife and children at the hands of the British who demanded that he give up his oath of resistance. The movie flashes back from the present day of this old man trying to learn to read to when he was resisting the powerful British. This is a poignant and dramatic story about a piece of history that most of us do not know much about. It is based on screenplay by Ann Peacock but carried forth and molded by director Justin Chadwick. It is all the more remarkable because it paints an extremely negative picture of colonial Britain by this British Director with the initial support of the BBC, which took the project into development. The school children and most of the characters were not professional actors but all real life Kenyan people. This included the children and their school, which was quite genuine. The exception was Naomie Harris an outstanding English screen actress who had a major role-playing Jane Obinchu the schoolteacher who believed Maruge deserved the opportunity to learn to read. The performance by Litondo as Maruge is totally believable, as he seems to embody this "Mandelaisk" persona. Litondo is a native Kenyan who used to be a news anchor with no previous acting experience. Harris, Chadwick and their entire crew spent several weeks in Kenya working with locals and preparing to shoot this movie there. The result is an extremely, sensitive effective and emotional film. A middle school teacher in our audience mentioned how she was inspired to go back into her classroom and we all could feel the awe and the thirst for learning that young people and a deprived older man might feel. We also have had our interest peaked to learn more about this very interesting and complicated piece of African history about which this story only scratched the surface. It is a movie that should not be missed. (2011)

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

An Important Film on Many Levels

8/10
Author: roguegrafix from Thailand
18 November 2011

This is a very good movie which operates at various levels. Ostensibly about an 84 year-old man going to primary school for the first time, it also covers (in graphic detail) a dark period in Kenya's and Britain's past: The Mau Mau Rebellion.

The issues raised are complex: the right for an old man to an education even if it excludes another child in a country of stretched educational resources; the fight for freedom and the integrity of an oath; and the battle against officialdom are but a few. Above all, it's a struggle against adversity on a variety of levels, both past and present.

The Mau Mau Rebellion is often overlooked in histories outside Kenya and this is well portrayed in the film. At times it is frightening and certainly very threatening and the director contrasts the flashbacks of the past with those of the present.

The acting, cinematography, editing are excellent. As is the beautiful yet unobtrusive soundtrack. And even though it becomes a tad clichéd, it is still an impressive and inspiring story. I was very moved by it—not least the dignity of the old man given all the injustices he suffered. Certainly worth a watch and better than a lot of movies I have seen this year.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

1st class.

Author: ecstatic-tickle from Ireland
11 July 2011

Glorious acting by the leads, a charming yet affecting screenplay, taut direction and above all stunning cinematography - all making for a gem of a film.

Due the nature of the story (daww, an 84 year-old guy in Kenya learning his ABCs with all the little kids...) some scenes skim dangerously close to being too cute and sentimental but thankfully the harrowing background to the story and gutwrenching depiction of conflicts in the past, along with the personal tragedy at the heart of the story make this such a moving film. Both Naomie Harris and Oliver Litondo deliver phenomenal performances, the latter in particular I think deserves Oscar consideration.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

The first grader, a true story about an 84 year old Kimani Maruge (Oliver Litondo) and his quest for education

7/10
Author: bewan87 from United States
4 December 2012

The first grader is a true story about an 84 year old Kimani Maruge (Oliver Litondo) who decides to go back to school after learning that the Kenyan government has introduced free education. He was a MauMau soldier a fact that prevented him from getting an education he so desired due to the war. He goes back to school so he can learn how to read the bible and a letter he received. This decision takes him on a journey full of struggles, which he has to overcome. The head teacher Jane Obinchu (Naomi Harris) undergoes the struggles with Maruge, which rocks her marriage and also gets her transferred to another school. The movie's theme is the struggle a person undergoes when attempting to accomplish his or her goals. The movie's plot combined with good acting from Oliver Litondo and Naomi Harris shows his journey and struggles. Maruge and Obinchu fight the parents, villagers, education board, and teachers that are against his going back to school as they see do not see the reason why an old man about to die needs education. To them this is a waste of the schools scarce resources. Conviction, a movie about Carl Upchurch, a felon who turns his life around while in prison by getting an education and discovering his identity has a similar theme to that of the First Grader. In his mission to help out people who are in the same situation he was in he faces a lot of opposition and mockery from people due to his past, but never gives up hope. The first grader uses low-key lighting to create a somber mood and especially when Maruge has flashbacks of his days in the forest as a MauMau soldier and the torture he endured. The movie also uses high-key lighting with the difference between light and dark areas being wide thus creating powerful dramatic images. The movie also employs motifs, which is in form of Marugue's struggle and journey. The flashbacks about Maruge's days as a MauMau veteran and the suffering he and others endured in order to help Kenya achieve its independence is the motif that reflects the movies theme. In the movie, Maruge is suffering and is also being ridiculed by other due to his decision to get an education. The first grader is an inspirational story that takes the viewer through the struggle of a man to achieve his goal of learning how to read so he can understand the bible and a letter he received.

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5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

A touching story

Author: Gordon-11 from Earth
23 October 2011

This film is about a 84-year-old man who insists on attending primary school, when the Kenyan government announces that there is free education for all.

"The First Grader" is about an elderly man who wants to be educated. His action provokes debate within the viewer, as we have to decide on how to interpret the Kenyan government's promise, ethical issues, effective allocation of public resources and opportunity costs. This topic is already very interesting and intellectually stimulating. There is also a subplot about the dark colonial history of Kenya, which probably aims to enhance the viewers' connection with the protagonist. However, I find the subplot ineffective without more detailed background history of Kenya, and more development on this subplot. Despite the shortcoming, "The First Grader" is still a touching and inspiring tale.

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From the Point Of View of a Smart, Bored, Jaded, Well Heeled Woman over 40

10/10
Author: selfsimilarity-61803399 from Vermont
4 October 2012

Truly a Soul Enriching Journey: the rare piece of Cinema which might just change your interior life... to say much more than this is to take away from what Matters. My Emotional and Spiritual Journey through life is forever Sweetened by this Evocative, true-life story~ it is as if i've learned to find a Hero, all over again, for the first time.

i know i can never have anything in common with this man, and yet i feel as though i love him... i would joyfully invite him into my life and would find paradise at his knee listening to him tell the stories of his life... his strength, courage, tenacity, need, and generosity of spirit make me feel shame at being human and find redemption in humanity at the same time.

i've gained so much by giving just these few moments to this film, his story will stay with me until the End of Time. If there is a person on earth i admire as much as him, i've yet to meet them.

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An inspiring and sensitive retelling of events

9/10
Author: Anne Price from Canada
2 May 2012

This is a very moving account of actual events that took place 2003-2005, with a little poetic license in the retelling. The principle actors are brilliant, but some of the other characters are a little overdrawn. However, I think this kind of caricature may be derived from Kenyan culture.

I thoroughly enjoyed the character development as well as the pacing of the story. It is also set in dramatic Kenyan landscapes which are enthralling. Having visited Kenya briefly in 2006, this brought back a lot of good memories of the country and the people. The smiles of the children you see amid the poverty is exactly how I remember it.

As others have said, it isn't a movie for children, but should be on the "to watch" list for adolescents and adults.

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