Transferring a stage play onto film is always a risky business and this movie version of an August Wilson play is a case in point.


FencesDenzel Washington and Viola Davis


August Wilson’s Fences is set in the 1950s, the sixth piece in the writer’s Pittsburgh cycle of ten plays focusing on the African-American experience in the US. In 1987 it won four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was revived in 2010 with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in the roles of black father Troy, now in his fifties, living with his wife Rose and son Cory. Their other son Gabriel, mentally impaired from a wartime injury, lives nearby. Troy works as a refuse collector with his great friend Bono. Years before he had dreams of becoming a professional in Major League Baseball but believes he was turned down on account of his colour.


In fact, he was considered too old. However, his life seems to have been governed by this disappointment to the extent that he rules his home with a rod of iron. When son Cory has the chance of a college football scholarship, his father forbids him to play, claiming that he will face racial discrimination. His attitude seems to be that if he cannot be a success, then neither can his son. Troy is not exactly a model citizen, having been in prison for killing a man during a robbery. He is two-timing on his wife and has an estranged son, Lyons, whose dream to be a musician is also scuppered by Troy. When son Gabriel is jailed for disturbing the peace, Troy has him committed to a psychiatric hospital.


As the reprehensible Troy, Denzel Washington is powerful enough, but in many ways it is a stage performance. Try as he may by opening out the action on to the street, the life and soul and the emotions stay well within the symbolic fences he builds around his home to keep the good in and the bad away. As Rose, Viola Davis is superb and really gets across what a terrible life she has led with Troy. Both actors, the film and the screenplay have been nominated in the 2017 Academy Awards. It is a good film but not a great one, whereas in the theatre it was arguably a great play.




Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney.


Dir Denzel Washington, Pro Todd Black, Scott Rudin and Denzel Washington, Screenplay August Wilson, based on his own play, Ph Charlotte Bruus Christensen, Pro Des David Gropman, Ed Hughes Winborne, Music Marcelo Zarvos, Costumes Sharen Davis.


Bron Creative/Macro Media/Scot Rudin Productions-Paramount Pictures.

139 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 10 February 2017. Cert. 12A.