The real-life story of Uganda’s Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is truly incredible and gets a suitably rousing treatment in this drama.
As an illiterate nine-year-old from a Kampala shanty town, she reveals an unexpected talent for chess and lifts her family from poverty.
Director Mira Nair sometimes slips into triumph-of-the-underdog clichés (this is a Disney movie, after all), but her film’s more formulaic aspects never obscure its compassion and vibrancy.
We get a real sense of the energy and resilience of Phiona and her fellow Katwe slum kids and there are excellent performances from the cast.
Nalwanga captures Phiona’s feisty spirit, David Oyelowo supplies uncloying goodness as Robert Katende, Phiona’s inspirational coach who sacrificed his own engineering career to teach Katwe’s children chess, and Lupita Nyong’o brings stoic dignity to the role of her struggling mother.
Running a shade over two hours, the film does plod in places, but it is still a genuinely heartwarming experience.