The First Grader


The First Grader

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Reviews Counted: 77

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Average Rating: 3.8/5

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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 denied - even if it means sitting in a classroom alongside six-year-olds. Moved by his passionate plea, head teacher Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris), supports his struggle to gain admission and together they face fierce opposition from parents and officials who don't want to waste a precious school place on such an old man. -- (C) Official Site

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Naomie Harris
as Jane Obinchu
Oliver Litondo
as Kimani Ng'ang'a Maruge
Emily Njoki
as Young Maruge's Wife
Hannah Wacera
as Maruge's Daughter
Tony Kgoroge
as Charles Obinchu
John Kimani
as Maruge's Baby Son
Lwanda Jawar
as Young Maruge
Tom Gitau
as Old Codger
Watson Mbirua
as Old Codger
Mwenga Matilika
as Old Codger
Alfred Munyua
as Teacher Alfred
Shoki Mokgapa
as Teacher Elizabeth
Kathyline Ndogori
as Teacher Katherine
Kamau Mbaya
as Kamau Chege
Shirlen Wangari
as Mother Wanjiku
Benta Ochieng
as Mother Benta
Eunice Tekero
as Village Woman
Jackie Musimbi
as Village Girl
Susan Sisian
as Young Mother
Kurenda ole Kureya
as Maasai Store Owner
Nick Reding
as Officer Johnson
Nick Ndichu
as Mau Mau Oath Giver
Paul Mbogo
as Mau Mau Leader
Jeannette Elsworth
as Plantation Owner's Wife
Kamau Wa Ndung'u
as John Gambe
Mary Mbirua
as Stall Owner
Catherine Njiru
as Stall Owner
Mumbi Kaigwa
as Education Secretary
Charles Ouda
as Adult School Teacher
Rachel Jones
as BBC Journalist
Lydia Gitachu
as CNN Journalist
Sam Feuer
as American Journalist
Gilbert Lukhalia
as Mr. Mutahi/Politician
Melvin Alusa
as Mr. Mutahi's Aide
Irene Kariuki
as Mrs. Muthumba
Rosemary Nyambura
as Jacquie (P.A. to the Chairman)
Ainea Ojiambo
as Education Official
Michael Oyier
as Newsreader
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News & Interviews for The First Grader

Critic Reviews for The First Grader

All Critics (77) | Top Critics (18)

  • Director Justin Chadwick's admirable effort manages to do more than inspire, educating auds with an important chapter in African history.

    Feb 23, 2012 | Full Review…

    Peter Debruge

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

    Jun 23, 2011 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…
  • It's funny how 'real life' sometimes conforms so closely to hackneyed patterns of screenwriting.

    Jun 22, 2011 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…

    Dave Calhoun

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • The First Grader is every bit as inspiring and heart-warming as you'd expect.

    May 27, 2011 | Rating: B+ | Full Review…

    Tom Long

    Detroit News
    Top 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 | Rating: 2.5/4
  • 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 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

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.

Cynthia S.
Cynthia S.

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.

Jens S.
Jens S.

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.

Matthew Slaven
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.

Raymond Wieser
Raymond Wieser

Super Reviewer

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