Queen of Katwe, review: ‘Nyong’o and Oyelowo are quality performers in an unchallenging movie’

Madina Nalwanga is Phiona Mutesi in Disney's QUEEN OF KATWE. Picture: Edward Echwalu /Disney

Madina Nalwanga is Phiona Mutesi in Disney's QUEEN OF KATWE. Picture: Edward Echwalu /Disney - Credit: Edward Echwalu

Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo and newcomer Madina Nalwanga star in this true tale of a young girl with a talent for chess

Queen of Katwe is a triumph over adversity film so generic, so straightforward, you should be able to plot its path from its very first moment.

Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is a kid growing up in the slums of Kampala, Uganda, and struggling to survive.

One day she comes into a chess club run by a missionary (David Oyelowo) and quickly discovers that she has a real talent for the game, a talent that could change her life and that of her family.

Her strong willed and fiercely independent mother (Lupita Nyong’o) will take some convincing though.


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It’s an unchallenging, feelgood, sporting underdog movie. What’s good about it is that the story works like clockwork, so there is no need to milk it.

Director Mira Nair knows that the audience’s tears and sense of uplift are a forgone conclusion so she just lets them come. With one exception, the child actors aren’t cast simply for cuteness.

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The film is set almost entirely in Africa and there are no white saviour characters.

The surprise of the film is that Ugandan society is as class ridden and stuck up as Britain: Harold Abrahams in Chariots of Fire had it easy compared to the layer of class privilege that Phiona has to break down.

The downside is that it really isn’t much good. Nyong’o and Oyelowo are quality performers but the rest of the cast, mostly locals who had never acted before, struggle and the English dialogue often sounds unnatural.

The staging and scripting is rudimentary. There is a nice touch at the end when the cast members meet up individually with the people they played in the film.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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