Feelgood tri­umph? Check

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

QUEEN OF KATWE Di­rected by Mira Nair. Star­ring David Oyelowo, Lupita Ny­ong’o, Mad­ina Nal­wanga. Cert PG, gen re­lease, 124mins

The re­mark­able, true story of Phiona Mutesi, a young Ugan­dan chess prodigy, be­gan in unimag­in­able poverty in a Kam­pala slum. As a pre-teen, Phiona and her brother be­gan at­tend­ing a lo­cal chess pro­gramme, pri­mar­ily to avail of the free food.

Phiona was un­e­d­u­cated, il­lit­er­ate and some­times home­less, yet her ap­ti­tude for the game of kings was soon ap­par­ent to her coach and men­tor Robert Ka­tende, and not long af­ter, as Phiona won tour­na­ment af­ter tour­na­ment, it was ap­par­ent to ev­ery­one else.

It’s a fan­tas­tic, feel-good story; one that neatly con­forms to the beats of a clas­sic sport­ing un­der­dog movie: think Rocky and the Rooks or The Bad News Bears with Bish­ops.

But what’s fas­ci­nat­ing about this big screen adap­ta­tion of Sports Il­lus­trated jour­nal­ist Tim Crother’s best-sell­ing bi­og­ra­phy - The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Ex­tra­or­di­nary Girl’s Dream of Be­com­ing a Grand­mas­ter – is that it ar­rives in cin­e­mas as fam­ily-friendly Dis­ney movie, re­plete with sass-mouthed young­sters and feel-good vibes.

That the film func­tions as an all-ages de­light with­out di­lut­ing Mutesi’s shock­ingly de­prived up­bring­ing is re­mark­able. Ku­dos to di­rec­tor Mira Nair, the tal­ented In­dian-Amer­i­can film­maker be­hind Mon­soon Wed­ding and Salaam Bom­bay! for keep­ing it real and si­mul­ta­ne­ously fan­tas­tic.

A trip­tych of tremen­dous cen­tral per­for­mances - David Oyelowo as Coach Ka­tende, Mad­ina Nal­wanga as Phiona, Lupita Ny­ong’o as Phiona’s scep­ti­cal mama – helps, as does cin­e­matog­ra­pher Sean Bob­bitt’s lively, multi-coloured brand of re­al­ism. Just be­cause you know what’s com­ing, doesn’t mean you won’t punch the air.

Didn’t Walt Dis­ney live-ac­tion films used to look like The Ugly Dachshund and The Cat from Outer Space? Watch out for the af­fect­ing fi­nal cred­its wherein cast mem­bers ap­pear along­side their real world equiv­a­lents.

Your move: Mad­ina Nal­wanga in Queen of Katwe

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