"Emotionally profound and delightfully entertaining"
Chosen as part of the 60th annual London Film Festival launching, Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe provides us with an incredibly uplifting experience, whilst bringing home a powerful message. When the world of film introduced us to Lupita Nyong’o with her ground breaking performance in 12 Years a Slave back in 2013, there was no doubt this woman would go far.
As a powerful symbol and role model not just to African women, but women across the globe; Nyong’o strikes gold again with her feisty, maternal Nakku Harriet in this heart-warming, yet equally heart-breaking tale of the underdog.
Based on a true story, we see Phiona; a young African girl fetching water and selling corn to make sure food goes in her adorable little brothers mouth and her mother can afford to pay the rent for their barely standing shack in a slum in Uganda. An unfair and unjust way to grow up, but through it all Phiona still manages to keep a smile on her face.
Adopting a classic middle child mentality she becomes the glue, holding her family together. When her older sister Night goes running off with a boy and they get kicked out of their home - Phiona takes it upon herself to think of a way to provide a better life than the nightmare she is currently residing in. When stumbling on a local commission worker Robert Katende’s (David Oyelowo) youth come chess club, she seeks solace in learning something new and perhaps this game is her ticket to a better life.
Despite being bullied at first by the other children for the state of her appearance and smell (there’s no escaping a class level it seems) Phiona manages to attend the class and becomes determined to be the best at this ‘city-boy’ game. Of course, in the time she is there, her family looses precious money that they desperately need. As her mother becomes enraged it takes a lot for Katende to convince her that Phiona as a special gift and representing Uganda in Chess competitions, in the hope of eventually becoming a Grandmaster is the best thing for her. Her social class and upbringing doesn’t stop her – faltering only occasionally when intimidated by more privileged children. It’s genuinely upsetting watching her mother drag her back to sell corn before accepting the fact that her children can have something she could only have dreamt of – a proper education.
Charmingly so, there is an ounce of predictability here. Although, the rise of this little girl and the hard work she endures in order to change not just hers but her families stars as well offers comfort in a world where such luxuries are far and few between. The inescapable Disney checklist has been well and truly ticked off here.
African tunes enhance the world our characters reside in, but beware of the Disney notes that emerge with only one intention – to toy with one’s emotions. Albeit, Nair and this talented ensemble of actors provide us with raw, eye-opening moments that the fact this is from such a well-known studio thankfully goes un-noticed for the most part.
Newcomer Madina Nalwanga as our ‘chess champion’ brings so much charisma and energy to her Phiona she is sure to be snapped up for future projects. Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo shine through with positivity in the incredibly heart-breaking third world situation they find themselves in. Be sure to be fighting back the tears with this one!
In all the right places, there is laughter and sadness to be had here. Hopefully not straying too far from the truth; Queen of Katwe provides an inspirational story that is sure to have kids all over the world begging their parents for a chess set.