Francesca Rudkin is an entertainment reviewer for NZ Herald.

Movie Review: Queen of Katwe

Madina Nalwanga is Phiona Mutesi in Disney's QUEEN OF KATWE, the vibrant true story of a young girl from the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of c
Madina Nalwanga is Phiona Mutesi in Disney's QUEEN OF KATWE, the vibrant true story of a young girl from the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of c

The latest film from award-winning veteran Indian filmmaker Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) is a feelgood underdog story everyone in the family can enjoy - especially if you enjoy a game of chess.

Based on a true story, this live action Disney film takes us into Katwe, one of Uganda's poorest slums, where unemployed engineering graduate Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) spends his days running sports programmes for the local kids, including a chess club. It's here he meets 9 year-old Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) who is unable to read or write, but who, under Robert's tutelage, goes on to become a Ugandan chess champion.

When they first meet, Phiona spends her days selling maize on the streets with her siblings to support her struggling solo mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong'o). At first Phiona joins the club for the free cup of porridge, but she soon becomes fascinated with the board game.

Impressed by his team's passion for the game and Phiona's natural ability, Robert talks his way into a tournament at one of Uganda's poshest schools.

It's a successful trip for Phiona, but the clash of culture and class makes for an unsettling experience.

The new opportunities confuse Phiona and put pressure on her family life and it's at this point Nair could have played the sympathy card; a temptation she wisely avoids.

Yes, Queen of Katwe is a Disney flick, so it's a traditional, uplifting story that hits the narrative beats you expect, but in Nair's telling it's devoid of sentimentality - which is what makes it refreshing.

Nair concentrates on presenting a dignified and intelligent film which portrays the grim reality of living in poverty, but always retains a positive tone whereby anything is possible regardless of where you live.

Wonderfully genuine and naturalistic performances from the young cast also help elevate Queen of Katwe beyond the norm, with the less-experienced actors also anchored by strong performances from Oyelowo and Nyong'o.

Chess is a hard game to film - not the most action-packed of sports - so an understanding of the game will make the running time of just over two hours go a little quicker.

Aimed at tweens and upwards rather than young kids, Queen of Katwe offers something we don't see often; an accessible, enjoyable story delivered in a mature and understated manner. Don't skip the theatre before you've seen the credits - they're some of the loveliest you'll see.

Cast: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o
Director: Mira Nair
Running Time: 124 mins
Rating: PG
Verdict: An uplifting and mature family film.

- NZ Herald

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