Maruge (Oliver Litondo), an eighty-something veteran of the Mau Mau uprising, gets the chance to go back to school and is soon a hit with his teacher (Harris) and the kids. The Kenyan authorities aren't so keen on the new student, though.
With a sky-high concept contained within a true story, The First Grader was attracting Oscar buzz, yet you can see why it was postponed. Exploiting a loophole in Kenya’s free education-for-all law, octogenarian Maruge (Oliver Litondo) enrolls in the local primary school where he is a hit with teacher Jane (Naomie Harris) and the kids, but a thorn in the side of the authorities. Around the central teacher-OAP-pupil relationship there are history lessons about the Mau Mau uprisings, portraits of village life and scenes of evil bureaucrats. Little people vs. the system stories should ensure big emotional wallop; that it doesn’t deliver is down to an underwritten script and overworked manipulation.
An amazing tru-life story that's Hollywoodised within an inch of its life. A missed opportunity for something really special.
Reviewed by Ian Freer