The First Grader

  • Film
  • Drama
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It’s funny how ‘real life’ sometimes conforms so closely to hackneyed patterns of screenwriting. This is the true story of Maruge (Oliver Litondo), an eightysomething man in rural Kenya who took at face value the ‘free education for all’ message of a newspaper article and demanded a place in a primary school.

British director Justin Chadwick (‘The Other Boleyn Girl’) and South African writer Ann Peacock (‘Country of My Skull’) mainly set this limp drama in and around the schoolroom where firm-but-kind teacher Jane (Naomie Harris) reluctantly accepts Maruge into her fold, despite opposition from the authorities.  There are also trips to the capital for conflicts with central bureaucracy and to the past to exorcise Maruge’s colonial-era demons. The film’s repeated journeys of conflict followed by acceptance are simplistic and obviously calculated to be uplifting. Yet for all its faults, the heart of ‘The First Grader’ is in the right place and it just about works as a basic inspirational tale for youngsters. At least they didn’t cast Morgan Freeman in the lead.

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday June 24 2011
Duration: 98 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Justin Chadwick
Cast: Naomie Harris
Oliver Litondo

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

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caught this film at toronto film festival - what an unexpected delight! uplifting, emotional and harrowing all at the same time, and a terrific untold true story. Not sure plans for uK release yet so see if you can at london film fest. Highly recommended!


saw this film at Toronto film festival and it was brilliant - a real breath of fresh air, and certainly the audience watching with me loved it - got a standing ovation! Couldn't recommend more.