Feelgood triumph? Check
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