The First Grader

DRAMA; 1hr 43min

STARRING: Naomie Harris, Oliver Litondo

School test: Litondo

What drives an illiterate man in his 80s to school? For 84-year-old Maruge (Litondo), who fought for Kenya’s liberation from the British in the 1953 Mau Mau rebellion and 50 years later still bears residual scars, the catalyst is both an announcement by the Kenyan government of free primary-school education for everyone and a letter he has received that he dearly wants to read.


The school is basic, overcrowded, happy and chaotic, and the children — non-actor, unaffected schoolkids — are a blast of spontaneous life. This well-intended, intermittently clunky, reality-based drama from director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl ) is no serene A-B-C, however: Despite the best efforts of hopeful head teacher Jane Obinchu (a fresh and caring Harris), the political swirl surrounding Maruge’s presence in the classroom is stormy. But not for nothing did Maruge survive the barbaric acts of the unsympathetically depicted Brits. Fiercely upstanding and dignified through it all, he’s a warrior still, even in a uniform of shorts and long socks.