An educator must stand up for the rights of an unusual student in this drama from director Justin Chadwick, which is based on a true story. In 2002, the government of Kenya announces that free education will be available to the nation's children for the first time, and as principal Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris) enrolls hundreds of new first grade students in her ramshackle school, she's greeted by one prospective student who stands out -- N'gan'ga Maruge (Oliver Litondo), who is 84 years old. Maruge is illiterate and wants the chance to improve himself before it's too late; Obinchu initially turns him away, but Maruge isn't easily dissuaded, and after he keeps returning to the school Obinchu agrees to let him enroll. When word gets out that an octogenarian farmer is attending Obinchu's school as a first grader, many in the community are puzzled and outraged, and the news media picks up on the story, turning it into a nationwide controversy. But Maruge stands firm, and as others learn his remarkable story -- he was a rebel soldier who fought for Kenya's freedom during the colonial era -- his need to educate himself no longer seems like the eccentric whim of an old man. The First Grader was an official selection at the 2010 Telluride Film Festival.
by Mark Deming synopsis