A very good friend of mine gave me two tickets to see Queen of Katwe, an African chess biopic, after I previously mentioned being most excited to see it. I had high hopes for the movie and it was even better than I expected.
Queen of Katwe is a Disney/ESPN biographical sports drama film and tells the story of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi; she is from the eponymous Katwe, an area in Kampala, the East African country’s capital city. The film stars David Oyelowo (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Selma) as chess coach Robert Katende, Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens) as Phiona’s mother Harriet and Ugandan newcomer Madina Nalwanga as Phiona. It is directed by Indian American filmmaker Mira Nair (Mississipi Massala, Monsoon Wedding).
I will be keeping my review spoiler free as I guess even a true story can still be spoiled. Here it is in four easy to chew slices:
#1 A moving true story
The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster, which chronicled Mutesi’s life was published by ESPN in 2012 and it was optioned that same year by Walt Disney pictures. The film explores Mutesi’s life in the slums of Katwe with her elder sister and two brothers, accidentally getting involved with a chess club and eventually rising to heights in the sport.
You are really drawn into her life and her family’s daily struggles to survive. The situation truly seems dire and hopeless and makes it all the more uplifting when she is finally able to escape her life of poverty.
#2 Brilliant lead performances
I’ll just come out and say it – the Academy should just take two Oscars and rest them at the feet of Oyelowo and Nyong’o. They were both absolutely brilliant. Oyelowo shines as a determined coach torn between helping underprivileged slum children and adequately providing for his own family. And Nyong’o is wonderful as the strong, gritty mother who would give her life for her children.
Nalwanga is quite a revelation as Phiona Mutesi though she does struggle a bit in some of the more emotionally charged scenes. Overall the performances of the child actors are all quite good and their interaction made for a number of chuckles. They had personality and then some.
#3 An inspirational film with strong themes
What stood out most to me in this film is the theme of not accepting your lot in life but striving for more. As Katende, Oyelowo analogises life to a game of chess and encourages Mutesi to plan ahead, see where she wants to be and find her “safe square”. And through some intense chess matches we see her grow from a shy girl selling maize in the slums into a strong, hopeful young woman.
And the ending, which I will not spoil, really brought on the waterworks. To dream for a better life and fight to achieve it is a message that the world should hear and that is why I unreservedly recommend this movie.
Rating: Queen of Katwe gets 3.75/4 opening gambits.
So have you checked out Queen of Katwe yet? What did you think of it? Feel free to comment below.
Julien’s got your back like a chiropractor. l8rs