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Denzel Washington and Viola Davis light up the screen in this adaptation of a play set in a black neighbourhood in the 50s

Denzel Washington directs and stars in this powerful, respectful, occasionally shouty screen version of August Wilson’s 1983 play about an unhappy working-class African-American family in 1950s Pittsburgh. It’s muscular, solid, sturdy – all those things you expect from classic mid-to-late twentieth-century American drama. Washington and co-star Viola Davis play struggling husband and wife Troy and Rose Maxson, embracing the theatrical DNA of the film. (Which is unsurprising considering that they starred together in an award-winning 2010 Broadway revival of the play and that Wilson, who died in 2005, is credited as the film’s writer.)

Most of the action takes places in and around the Maxsons’ home as Troy’s resentments and weaknesses spill out into daily family life. Troy has difficult relationships with his two sons, and his behaviour finally brings his marriage to breaking point. The past doesn’t just hang over the present, it shapes it: the Maxsons’ house is funded by compensation paid to Troy’s psychologically damaged brother Gabe, injured in the war. Troy himself has never recovered from his career as a baseball player being cut short as a younger man.

It’s easy to throw accusations of staginess at film adaptations of theatre like this, which honour the limitations of theatre and make only limited attempts to open up the play. But there’s a hothouse atmosphere to this domestic drama that works well on screen, even if the symbolic power of the fence itself – which Troy is building in his backyard – must have had more resonance in the theatre. Washington is very good, if a tad too sympathetic, but it’s Davis – hurt, proud, determined – who’s the star of this show.

By: Dave Calhoun


Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday February 10 2017
Duration: 139 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Denzel Washington
Screenwriter: August Wilson
Cast: Denzel Washington
Viola Davis
Stephen McKinley Henderson
Jovan Adepo

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Average User Rating

3.6 / 5

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Even though I'm still not too sure weather I liked this movie or not, I have to admit that there is a lot of things to appreciate about it: 

1) Viola Davis and Denzel Washington are absolutely fascinating. 

2) As this movie is originally a play, there is a lot of talking but the language used is so different from common language that it makes it very special and certainly not boring 

3) Davis and Washington performances are outstanding in Fences but it's worth having a close look at the other characters. Troy's sons, Gabriel and Mr Bono are particularly brilliant.

To sum up, I'd say Fences is a surprising movie, definitely worth a look!

Babs - Working Girl London

I agree with most of the reviews below. The first half of the film for me was good...but nothing overly exciting. The characters really came to life in the second half and you can all of a sudden see why Viola Davis won that Oscar. It's a hard hitting film for sure, with perfect casting and damn good acting. I would definitely like to see a stage version - if the script managed to be this powerful on film I can only imagine how impactful a stage version would be. It's worth a watch but you have to be in the right mood for it - it's not a quick or easy watch.

Elizabeth P

Extremely powerful film with stunning performances from the whole cast. I defy anyone to come away not having related to at least one of the themes running through this movie. There are some hard moments that I attributed to the period setting of the piece but when you think a second longer you realise the same prejudices, hardships, missed opportunities, relationship struggles and mistakes still exist today. Somewhere in the second half I lost my sympathies with the characters and by the end I was pretty fed up with them all. I felt like I was building up to something that didn't quite happen. Perhaps that's part of the charm of the story, that it's meant to show the struggles of real life.

It was a thought provoking film but not as emotional and affecting as I had hoped.

Diana G

Denzel Washington had to learn a lot of words. Almost an entire dictionary! His performance is a very strong one as is that of Viola Davis playing his wife. Set almost entirely in his house and garden, after about one hour I whispered to my companion, " This would have been better as a play," not realising that it had originally been just that. The acting was great but the translation from play to film did not work well for me. This needs to be kept on the stage.

Luisa G

So...Fences started off as a play, and you can see why. This film was exceptionally wordy, with not a lot of storyline, and no action whatsoever. The acting was immense. Four people walked out of the cinema when we went...with an hour to go!

Reena P

Brilliant acting - an intense and moving film. Definitely worth watching in the cinema! It's clear this is a remake of a play and its done very well. Viola Davis is amazing!


Beautifully acted, particularly by David who received an oscar nomination for her supporting role, yet not much for to it. With a running time of over 2 hours and 20 mins it makes for a hard-going film. It's evident that this would be a fantastic stage show to watch but its translation into film has not accounted for how the storytelling could have been altered in its new medium. The casting is impeccable, the story full of emotion - both aspects get bogged down by what might have been.


I wasn’t aware of the play that this film is based on, prior to seeing it. However within the first 30 minutes it’s clear that it comes from the stage as it’s as if Denzel Washington (who's directing and starring in the film) simply filmed a stage for large portions of the film. He certainly doesn’t use the medium to much effect. Thankfully it was clearly a very good play as the dialogue and performances - Viola Davis in particular - really elevate it beyond the direction. It’s just a shame as it could have been so much more interesting with the different camera angles and storytelling techniques that film allows.

John C

I have to agree with Lizzie W ,it is rather hard going. Very much a filmed play. The main role played by Denzel Washington is well played, but so flatly negative that I found it all rather depressing.

The play may well have won a Pulitzer prize in 1987,but I failed to find the great dialogue ,or great value in the piece.

The film is worth seeing but mainly for the strength & power of Viola Davis. 

Alex PD

Fences is a marathon, not a sprint. It is both bold and traditional, familiar yet new. The story is slowly heartbreaking, as you learn more about each character and their background and their motivations. The staging allows the dialogue and acting to take centre stage - and does it ever steal the show. Both Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are sensational, but Davis really steals the show with the one of the greatest film performances in years.

Lizzie W

I found watching this film a long hard slog. Some excellent acting and some powerful scenes managed to break up the 3 hour long drawn out story. The film is about an angry and resentful man whose dreams were dashed due to race and circumstance and there are some extremely hard hitting and powerful scenes however my dreams were dashed after 3 hours and very little content. After all the rave reviews I was sorely disappointed.

Sarah G

I saw this yesterday At the time I was very impressed. On waking this morning even more so.

First thing first - the  casting, period detail, acting and direction are flawless. In many ways this is a small story. It only has 6 characters that appear to the viewer. But with this tiny cast and limited set (pretty much all the action takes place in and around their small home) it covers the gamut of race politics, ageing, parenting, family dynamics and spousal relationships. 

The story really resonates with me. It is one of the things that has made me understand what my parents life has been like.  It's not that we have lived in that time or place but that in my family we have a generation  that was brought up conditioned by/ believing in a certain set of values and way of doing things. Their lives were about surviving and putting their children in the best position they could - whilst worrying for them.  As time goes on the world has changed, and, there is a far freer - dare to dream, and more than that, seek to follow your dreams ethos. That basic difference creates difference and often conflict between parent and children. Similarly, in relationships we each have different expectations and thresholds of desire and need which we sacrifice and compromise or which at a certain point we cannot ignore despite the cost to others. That is what Fences covers in a really sophisticated yet ungarnished and straightforward way.

This movie deserves all of its Oscar nominations and it in my view deserve all the awards. 

Kishma S

Neither the story or the setting are unfamiliar but the acting and direction are of such a high quality that that this ordinal story is transformed into something special.


This is a moving tale of a flawed character, beautifully told. The language and the acting are wonderful. It is no surprise to read that the play won a Pulitzer prize when it was first performed in 1987.

It is set in a poor part of 1950s Pittsburgh and it captures the generational tension of the time perfectly.

Denzel Washington both directs and plays the lead. His direction is faultless, everyone in it is great.

Viola Davis is amazing, I can't believe that this is not counted as a lead role, but if she does not win the best supporting actress Oscar, it will be a travesty.


Adored this movie, which almost feels more like a play (it is in fact based on one) as the words and plot is so dense. But stick to every word and you'll find yourself engrossed by this domestic tale of a troubled father and his complex relationship with his wife, sons and friends. It's not an action-packed movie but the rich performances are extremely rewarding and worthy of all the praise that's being heaped on it. 

Kritt N

Fences is a drama that goes deep. It centres around a complex man, Troy, and his relationship between those around him. A man who is steadfastly tied to his beliefs and methodologies that he fails to see how his actions are affecting those around including the relationship with his sons, his wife, his friends. The title of the film derives its name from the fence which Troy is building around his house. Read a little deeper and symbolises Troy's attempts to keep death at bay and the way he 'fences' himself away from his family and friends hence the title.

It can be a rollercoaster of emotions. At times, the movie seamlessly switches light-hearted scene, even comical at times, to something dark and tense. In one particular scene, there was a sharp intake of breath from the audience as father and son squared up to one another late in the movie (I shall say no more).

To fully appreciate Fences, you have to hang on to every word because not doing so means you'll quickly find yourself at a lost to what's happening or the significance of the next scene. This can be quite hard because the scenes aren’t explosive. It doesn't jerk you awake or grabs our attention. It’s also very easy to fall into a slumber because the dialogues can be quite drawn out. I also found it hard at time to decipher the heavy Pittsburgh accent.

If you’re more accustomed (let’s be honest, that’s the majority of us) to catchy soundtracks, CGI, sound effects, stunts and fast-paced drama like most Hollywood films, I don’t think you’ll enjoy this so much. Personally, it wasn’t really for me either. But for lovers of literature, who enjoys looking beyond the explosive Hollywood scenes, and analysing themes in movies, then you're in for a treat.

TIP: Some people may not approve, but I sometimes read the entire plot before seeing the movie. For a movie like Fences, this helped me helped enormously follow the movie especially in the moments when my attention started to waver.