A Disney drama based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi (Nalwanga), a young Ugandan girl who developed a talent for chess under the tutelage of Robert Katende (Oyelowo) and ended up competing around the world for her country.
It’s a heart-warming, beautifully performed story that is as much about Phiona and her mother (Nyong’o)’s family struggles in the slums of Uganda as it is about the game of chess (which is not always a riveting sport for spectators, let’s be honest).
Selling corn to keep a roof over her family’s head, Phiona walks into a charity classroom one day – tempted by the offer of free porridge – and becomes fascinated by the games of chess that are played there. Former player Robert notices her talent and is determined to help Phiona and the other chess-playing children realise a life outside the ones they have been born into.
As directed by Mira Nair, this is sometimes slow (there is probably one too many of those chess match scenes) and touches on many clichés of both sports movies and young-person-taking-on-the-establishment dramas. There are the elitist members of an academy who are appalled when Phiona and her friends want to compete, and all the successes. obstacles and failures we’ve come to expect from such movies.
But what raises this above other similar films are the performances. Oyelowo and Nyong’o are both superb in their grown-up roles, but it is the children here – especially Nalwanga – who truly shine. Thanks to them, this is a warm, interesting story – and make sure you stay for the end credits, where the actors embrace their real-life counterparts.
Is Queen Of Katwe suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
Parents should be aware that it is hinted at that Phiona’s sister is working as a prostitute.