Queen of Katwe (2016)
Cast: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o
Director: Mira Nair
Rated: PG for thematic elements and some suggestive material
This film is directed by Mira Nair who has her own unique story telling style. I like her films. She is a talented director who has made some very good films. They are not very popular among mass audiences and may not have done very well in box office. However her films are critically acclaimed and this movie is one of them. This movie tells the true story of a female chess prodigy who overcomes her poverty ridden circumstances to emerge as a champion of hope and change.
Phiona Mutesi (played by Madina Nalwanga) lives in the Ugandan slum of Katwe. She lives with her widowed mother (played by the tenacious Lupita Nyong’o) elder sister and two younger brothers. The children can no longer afford education in school so they help their mother sell maize on the streets. The weight of life’s hardships soon starts weighing in on the kids. One day Phiona stumbles upon Robert Katende (played by David Oyelowo) of Sports Outreach Program who introduces her to chess. It is there that the spirited Phiona develops a hidden talent and passion for chess. Katende who realizes that Phiona is a prodigy encourages her and helps her discover the true potential of her intellect.
The writing and screenplay of this movie is top notch. Despite the slow pacing of the scenes, it never gets boring. The emotional scenes are heart rendering, the plot development is sublime and the background story keeps you engaged. The movie feels like an emotional roller coaster on life and its challenges without getting exploitative. The vivid imagery and excellent cinematography manage to depict the realistic picture of life in poverty ridden Katwe.
The film is not without its faults though. Chess is an important part of the movie narrative. It is an absorbing tense game where you challenge your opponent’s wits. The chess playing scenes suffer on this account as they are not able to invoke the tension associated with the game. You need to get caught up in the game as you follow the protagonist’s move with someone explaining the maneuver. However in Queen of Katwe the thrill and the suspense surrounding chess disappear due to the quick pace at which the game is played. The camera focuses more on the players’ faces than on the game. This only adds to the drama but the excitement and exhilaration of a sports movie is clearly missing in these scenes.
The Verdict: * 7/10
Despite its one inherent flaw, this movie deserves a watch. The writing and cinematography brings out the inspirational power of the film. Phiona’s tale showcases a powerful yet unexpected story of triumph.
This is not your typical feel good Disney movie (although it is produced by Disney Studios). It offers a realistic and honest look of Africa with its harsh environment making the story all the more inspiring. The performances of all the actors are great. The movie conveys a message of hope without being too preachy. My Verdict is 7 stars out of 10.
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You can also check out my reviews and recommendations of other films in the Movies page.