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The First Grader (2011)



Average Rating: 5.8/10
Critic Reviews: 17
Fresh: 10 | Rotten: 7

No consensus yet.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.9/5
User Ratings: 2,224

My Rating

Movie Info

In a small, remote mountain top primary school in the Kenyan bush, hundreds of children are jostling for a chance for the free education newly promised by the Kenyan government. One new applicant causes astonishment when he knocks on the door of the school. He is Maruge (Oliver Litondo), an old Mau Mau veteran in his eighties, who is desperate to learn to read at this late stage of his life. He fought for the liberation of his country and now feels he must have the chance of an education so long


Art House & International, Drama

Ann Peacock

Dec 27, 2011


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All Critics (72) | Top Critics (18) | Fresh (42) | Rotten (29) | DVD (1)

It's funny how 'real life' sometimes conforms so closely to hackneyed patterns of screenwriting.

June 22, 2011 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The First Grader is every bit as inspiring and heart-warming as you'd expect.

May 27, 2011 Full Review Source: Detroit News
Detroit News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The filmmaking is ... uneven, filled with charming picture-postcard scenes of smiling children and African sunshine that seem crafted for a different film than one with moments of horrific flashbacks.

May 26, 2011 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The story is uplifting in a predictably pro-education, antiwar, feel-good way, warmth and humor balancing the heavy moments.

May 26, 2011 Full Review Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Stow your cynicism and give this lesson in continuing education the response it deserves -- more than a polite clap, maybe even a sitting ovation.

May 20, 2011 Full Review Source: Globe and Mail | Comment (1)
Globe and Mail
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It's a middle-of-the-road film.

May 20, 2011 Full Review Source: Washington Post | Comments (2)
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

An earnest "true story" that hits many of the expected importance-of- education grace notes, but never quite achieves a lump-in-your-throat reaction

January 14, 2013 Full Review Source: McClatchy-Tribune News Service
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

achieves a poignant, humanist sincerity

January 27, 2012 Full Review Source: Cinema Writer
Cinema Writer

The First Grader is a self-congratulatory and subtlety-free slog that makes saints of its protagonists, devils out of its antagonists and narcoleptics out of its audience.

January 19, 2012 Full Review Source: Quickflix

With the melodrama cranked up as high as it is, it's hard to believe this was a true story.

December 15, 2011 Full Review Source:

An uplifting, romanticised and gently-paced film infused with the dry beauty of the Kenyan landscape and powered by the moist-eyed performance of Oliver Litondo in the title role

November 24, 2011 Full Review Source: Screenwize

Based on real events, The First Grader is a unique blend of uplifting self determination and harrowing conflict

November 12, 2011 Full Review Source: Urban Cinefile
Urban Cinefile

Learning never ends is the message of this inspiring true story set in Kenya in which an 84 year old villager joins local primary students in a bid to learn how to read. It's a great story

November 12, 2011 Full Review Source: Urban Cinefile
Urban Cinefile

A pass mark, just, for preachy African melodrama.

November 10, 2011 Full Review Source:

Director Justin Chadwick's film is sort of corny, not surprisingly, but it is inspiring and full of real feeling at times.

August 4, 2011 Full Review Source: Capital Times (Madison, WI)
Capital Times (Madison, WI)

Wholesome and uplifting in the classic carpe diem manner and Harris is a lot more attractive than Robin Williams.

June 26, 2011 Full Review Source: Observer [UK]
Observer [UK]

Even if the story runs on predictable lines, it remains hugely affecting.

June 24, 2011 Full Review Source: Movie Talk
Movie Talk

Seems to go on for ever and manipulates its audience in the most naďve of ways.

June 24, 2011 Full Review Source: This is London
This is London

A predictable but inspiring story of an 84-year-old, one-time Mau Mau warrior, who insists on an education at a Kenyan primary school.

June 24, 2011 Full Review Source: Financial Times | Comment (1)
Financial Times

While too many young people take education for granted in this country, The First Grader illustrates the need for older folks to be educated, too.

June 24, 2011 Full Review Source: Birmingham Mail
Birmingham Mail

Ann Peacock's didactic screenplay may be based on a true story, but it's hopelessly unconvincing in the way it manufactures and resolves conflicts.

June 23, 2011 Full Review Source: Daily Mail [UK]
Daily Mail [UK]

The screenplay sticks to a tried and trusted formula which tends to lessen the emotional impact of an amazing true story.

June 23, 2011 Full Review Source: Daily Express
Daily Express

It's a complex scenario, but this movie winds up telling a straightforward, and slightly sucrose, heartwarming tale.

June 23, 2011 Full Review Source: Guardian | Comment (1)

The First Grader is based on a true story and what a true story it is.

June 23, 2011 Full Review Source: Daily Telegraph
Daily Telegraph

The subject matter is thought-provoking and inspiring and the performances from young and old alike are A-grade.

June 23, 2011 Full Review Source: Daily Express
Daily Express

Maruge comes across more as a paragon than a person, and, like him, you'll be left wanting to learn more.

June 23, 2011 Full Review Source: Radio Times
Radio Times

Audience Reviews for The First Grader

Wonderful movie!! Inspiring. Heartfelt. Moving....and so continues my theory that some of the best movies are the ones that I have never heard of.... I found this a heart warming story, and much to be learned from. The main character's determination to realize his dream against all odds is truly inspiring. Makes me count my American blessings.
September 25, 2012

Super Reviewer

This true story of an 84 year old Kenyan man who, against all opposition, wants to make use of the new law of free education for first graders, is a perfect feel good movie. While the flashbacks into his past that by and by reveal his eventful back story and explain the motivation for his wish to learn reading also give a glimpse into the violent history of the country, this is not a political film. It is a story about the importance of education, dealing with your past and standing up for yourself. The performances are top notch and heart warming, especially the leading man Oliver Litondo and Naomie Harris as teacher are adorable. While the film does not avoid all stereotypes that come with such stories it is still enthralling, touching, beautifully filmed and very entertaining.
The best stories are still those where bad things happen to good people but in the end everyone gets what they deserve.
September 29, 2011

Super Reviewer

The main (true) story here is not that a Kenyan octogenarian goes back to first grade, but the horrible hell he and his countrymen went through fighting off the British colonialist in the 1950s. This should be rated R because that hell is presented in a horrifying way. To those that say violence in movies make you numb: I love Kill Bill, I've seen it probably 7 times, and this movie disturbed me to a point where I wanted to walk out. But I'm glad I didn't.
June 25, 2011
Matthew Slaven

Super Reviewer

From the director of The Other Boleyn Girl comes a completely different story; one about perseverance and fighting for what is right. After just studying the Mau Mau of Kenya and their struggles against the British in the 1960's for a school project, it's devastating to see it on the big screen. The flashbacks are vivid, violent and disturbing, but the rest of the story is extremely heart-warming and inspiring. Oliver Litondo and Naomie Harris are absolutely superb in their roles. Harris is so different here from her role in Pirates of the Caribbean as Tia Dalma. I would highly recommend this film because it conveys some very important messages, it is beautiful, extremely up-lifting and well-done.
June 22, 2011
Raymond Wieser

Super Reviewer

    1. Kimani N'gan'ga Maruge: Learn till the soil gets in your ears.
    – Submitted by Clyda P (3 years ago)
    1. Kimani N'gan'ga Maruge: We have to learn from our past because we must not forget, and because we must be better.
    – Submitted by Joana d (3 years ago)
    1. Jane Obinchu: Class we have a new student today!
    – Submitted by Chris P (3 years ago)
    1. Jane Obinchu: Why does someone as old as you want to go to school?
    – Submitted by Chris P (3 years ago)
View all quotes (4)

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