Film Review – Queen of Katwe (2016); an uplifting story about how anything is possible

7047_5224During my time at the London Film Festival, I was also able to attend the European premiere of Disney’s Queen of Katwe. Based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi, the young Ugandan girl who goes on to become a chess champion, this is a wonderfully uplifting film that had me leaving the cinema with a smile on my face.

The film’s director Mira Nair spoke before the screening about how pleased she was to be able to make a film about Africa that was about the country she knows and loves, not a film about colonial Africa or one filled with animals roaming across the open plains and Queen of Katwe certainly opens your eyes to the reality of those living in the poorer communities of Uganda.

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David Oyelowo & Madina Nalwanga

As the story centres on Phiona and her family, it needed a strong central performance and Madina Nalwanga is wonderful in the role. She has a presence on screen that captivates the audience, as we watch Phiona grow in confidence and self belief. She also has a glint in her eye, which allows her to bring out the more humourous moments. She is also excellently supported by David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o, who were both at the premiere. 

Oyelowo, plays her coach Robert Katende, the man who introduces her to chess and realises the potential she has. He captures Katende’s incredible generosity of spirit and kind heart, as we see how he and his wife support the children of Kampala as if they are an extension of their family, highlighted further by the film’s credits referring to some of the children living with their family. They truly care for them and it’s lovely to watch Katende’s bond with his chess group grow.

Nyong’o, whose breadth as an actress continues to impress me both on screen and stage (Eclipsed in NYC is one of my theatre highlights of 2016), is also excellent. As Phiona’s mother we see her as the strong, protective woman who, after being widowed has to provide for her children in very difficult circumstances. You see where Phiona learnt to have such strength and the two woman have a warm bond that gives the film further depth.

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Lupita Nyong’o as Phiona’s mother

Another wonderful aspect of this film is how much humour is in it. The children of Katwe (or the Phioneers) are a breath of fresh air and play each of their roles so well, capturing the playful and joyful spirit they have. Also, to say I didn’t understand the rules of chess, I didn’t find the scenes in which games are played dry or dull. Director Mira Nair manages to successfully create a sense of drama and anticipation to them, which keeps your attention and interest.

The soundtrack choices have also been perfectly chosen with songs full of the essence and spirit of the Africa we see in this film.

Queen of Katwe is ultimately a story about how anything is possible. Anyone, no matter their place in the world, can go on to achieve great success if they work hard, believe in themselves and have people in their lives to give them strength when they need it. It’s a wonderfully positive story for all ages that I hope will inspire all who see it. Heck, it even made me more interested in chess!

Queen of Katwe opens in U.K. cinemas on 21st October 2016. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/z4l3-_yub5A

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