'Queen of Katwe' is an inspirational tale without the
Queen of Katwe
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Director: Mira Nair
Writers: William Wheeler (screenplay), Tim Crothers (based on the ESPN Magazine article and book by)
Starring: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o
Genre: Biography, Drama
Rated: PG for thematic elements, an accident scene and some suggestive material
Recommended to: Anyone looking for a truly uplifting story with fantastic performances.
Synopsis: Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) is caught in the cycle of poverty. She and her Ugandan family have little to hope for. When Phiona proves to be a chess prodigy she is given a chance to hope for a different future with a far happier ending.
Review: Over the past few years Disney has put out a series of solid, if not exceptional, inspirational stories build around atypical sports stories. 2014 had “Million Dollar Arm,” 2015 gave us “McFarland USA” and this year we have “Queen of Katwe.”
Madina Nalwanga might not be a recognizable name seeing as this is her first film, but to say she matches the performances of her co-stars, David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o, would be something of an understatement. Oyelowo and Nyong’o are great in their roles, but it is Nalwanga that is given the lion’s share of the work. It’s up to her to convey the curiosity that develops into something of an obsession (and deus ex machinca) for Phiona. If the audience doesn’t connect with Phiona, the film would be inaccessible to those who don’t have a deeply rooted passion for chess or the economic struggles of the Ugandan people.
“Queen of Katwe” is a beautiful film and while it does soften the edges when it comes to Phiona’s family’s living conditions (it’s not that they are made to look great, it just lacks the grit and horrors that were shown in “Slumdog Millionaire”) that doesn’t undermine the truly inspirational aspects of the film. I would argue that a more realistic approach would have made the film better, but it also might have limited the audience that would be inclined to see it. “Queen of Katwe” is a film parents should take their children to. Not only does it introduce the topic of poverty, it also shows that determination can help to overcome many of life’s challenges.