Not many people in the UK will know that Fences originally was a Broadway production. Released then 33 years ago, the writer of said play, August Wilson, refused to see his project converted to film without a black man behind the camera. Norman Jewison came closest to directing in 1987, with Eddie Murphy set to play the lead role, but the project fell through. Wilson’s demand stood firm until his death in 2005, and in 2016 Denzel Washington took charge of turning the play into a motion picture, directing and starring in. As a result, Fences is a film that, along with a number of other movies this year, ensures that there will not be a repeat of the backlash from the total absence of black nominees that overshadowed last year’s awards season.
Washington and Viola Davis both won Tony awards for their 2010 stage revival of Fences and they both reprise their roles on screen as Troy and his wife Rose. The former is a working class man in his early 50s who we perceive in the opening stages of the story as a well together, charismatic man. Strong but fair with his son Cory (Jovan Adepo). He shares a humble relationship with his wife and friend Bono (Stephen Henderson) as well as his brain damaged brother, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) and his eldest son with whom he had with another woman, Lyons (Russell Hornsby). A huge revelation halfway through the act, however, sees his manor change for the worse and he suddenly becomes bitter and forceful, completely changing the audience’s interpretation of the man.
Washington and Davis will certainly be mentioned during awards season. The latter of which perhaps more so. Despite much of the movie surrounding Troy, we see much of Washington’s best come out when his character is having a dramatic confrontation with wife Rose and Davis absolutely drives the power home. It’s no wonder Washington decided to stick with much of the original cast of the play’s revival and there is definitely a stage feel throughout with much of the movie played out in and around the family’s home. There’s a vast amount of dialogue, it’s virtually music-free and as a result it is clear to see that Washington was keen to stick as closely to the story’s on stage roots.
Fences has already been tipped to pick up some awards this season and despite all those years waiting for the play to be converted to the screen, it has certainly been worth it.