Queen of KatweCultureCinemaMovie reviews
Based on a true story, Queen of Katwe chronicles the inspirational journey of Phiona Mutesi, a young girl from the slums of Katwe in Uganda who quickly rises through the ranks to become a world-champion chess player. In the hands of a lesser director, this picture could have been a disaster: another run of the mill sporting drama teeming with heavy handed symbolism and manufactured drama. Thankfully though, Indian-American Mira Nair heads the film and, having lived in Uganda, is in an ideal position to bring Phiona’s world to audiences whose lives couldn’t be more different.
The story takes place across a couple of years, introducing us to Phiona (newcomer Madina Nalwanga), her life with her mother (Lupita Nyong’o), her brothers and wayward sister Night. A maize seller on the streets, Phiona’s outlook seems bleak until she stumbles into a missionary chess club (the Pioneers) under the watchful eye of coach Robert Katende (David Oyelowo). She, and a number of the other children, have a knack for the game and their coach begins the battle to get his kids into chess leagues, fighting for his ‘slum kids’ to have an equal footing with those more fortunate. As Phiona gains traction however, she begins to distance herself from her humble beginnings, unable to reconcile the life she’s able to live whilst competing with the one she has at home.
Shot almost entirely on location in Katwe, there’s a sense of authenticity to the film that adds to its impact; peppered with the little cultural quirks of Ugandan culture, Nair creates a wholly absorbing backdrop for her stunning cast. Madina Nalwanga gives a truly excellent performance; her highs and lows are so believable, so thrilling and heartbreaking in equal measure that it’s easy to forget this is merely a retelling and not a documentary at times. David Oyelowo is absolutely charming as Robert and Lupita Nyong’o is breathtaking as Phiona’s proud, strong mother Nakku, but the show is completely stolen by Nalwanga and the ragtag group of Pioneers.
In short, Queen of Katwe is a gem of a film, charming, heartwarming and inescapably human.
Queen of Katwe is released nationwide on 21st October 2016.
Watch the trailer for Queen of Katwe here: