One girl’s triumphant path to becoming a chess champion.
An illiterate nine-year-old girl from a Kampala shantytown reveals an unexpected talent for chess and lifts her family from poverty. Yes, the real-life story of Uganda’s Phiona Mutesi is truly incredible and it gets a suitably rousing dramatisation in The Queen of Katwe.
Admittedly, director Mira Nair doesn’t entirely steer clear of 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 – qualities they share with the street children in Nair’s breakout film, 1988’s Salaam Bombay!
She gets excellent performances from her cast, too. David Oyelowo supplies uncloying goodness as Phiona’s inspirational coach, who has 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, while Madina Nalwanga captures Phiona’s feisty spirit. Running a shade over two hours, the film does plod in places, but that doesn’t stop it being genuinely heartwarming.
Certificate PG. Runtime 124 mins. Director Mira Nair
The Queen of Katwe debuts on Sky Cinema Premiere on Sunday 25 June.