Film Review: Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe

Director Mira Nair’s film is infectious in its positivity. Queen of Katwe is a heartwarming picture.

Phiona is growing up in the slums of Katwe, Kampala, living with her mother and siblings. When she unexpectedly discovers the game of chess, Phiona seems like a natural. With the support of her coach, Phiona excels, despite home troubles…

Telling the true story of an unlikely chess champion from the slums of Kampala, Queen of Kwante is an edifying film. Mira Nair’s film is a classic underdog tale. Whilst it is the type of story that has been told before, the film is made appealing thanks to strongly drawn characters and Nair’s fine storytelling.

Queen of Katwe quickly established Phiona’s life for viewers; it is easy to see her lack of prospects. The film also plays up the arbitrary manner in which Phiona discovers chess. An accidental stumbling on to coach’s chess group changes her life. There is a sense that if not for this meeting, Phiona’s talents would never have been discovered. The film also is a proponent of the idea of an equality of opportunity for children, whatever their background.

Nair’s film is polished, and vibrant in its visuals. Nevertheless, Queen of Katwe does not shy away from presenting reality of Phiona’s life. Yet Nair does not feel the need to be overtly gritty; the harshness is often implied without too much depiction of on-screen suffering. This works well in the context of film.

There are strong female characters at heart of Queen of Katwe. Although coach Robert is a pivotal role, and shows great support to the protagonist, it is the women who stand out. Phone is the one who excels using her natural talents, with the support of Robert and others. Also, Phiona’s Harriet’s mother is a believable and staunch character. Even Robert’s supportive wife Sara is depicted as a progressive and strong character, albeit in a small role.  Newcomer Madina Nalwanga gives a great performance as Phiona. David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o are both excellent in their roles.

Queen of Katwe is an uplifting story, and a thoroughly enjoyable film.

Queen of Katwe is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.