The two leading players in this film, Denzel Washington and Viola Davies, have both been nominated for Academy Awards. Viola Davis has already won a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actress. This, like the Academy Award, nomination, should really be for Best Actress as whilst her screen time is less than Washington her character and performance are equally essential to the film.
This is an actor’s films with both Washington and Davis reprising roles that they played on Broadway in 2010: Troy and Rose Maxton. And another player in this production Stephen McKinley Henderson as Jim Bono is part of a fine supporting cast.
The film is adapted from a play originally written in 1983 by August Wilson. He died in 2005 but had already written a screenplay on which this film is based. Wilson, whose early experiences of US racism informed his work, wrote a cycle of seven plays about Afro-American life and experiences. He insisted that this play, if adapted for cinema, should be directed by an African-American, and Washington both stars and directs.
The play fits into what is almost a genre of African-American life on film, harking back to A Raisin in the Sun (USA 1961), another play adapted first for television then cinema. In fact this film displays its theatrical origins both in structure and settings. It also has lengthy dialogue scenes but the delivery by the fine cast make these compelling and convincing.
The film is set in Pittsburgh in the 1950s and moves onto the early 1960s. These times are an important backdrop to what is essentially a family drama. And the title, as Rose explains to Troy in one powerful scene, is itself a metaphor for the emotions and contradictions dramatised in this absorbing film.