“Queen of Katwe” is directed by Mira Nair and stars Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, and Lupita Nyong’o. The film is based on the true story of a girl from Uganda named Phiona Mutesi who is introduced to the game of chess, and from there her world is changed forever.
This is a Disney movie with some grade-A talent in it, that being Oyelowo and Nyong’o, plus the story seemed to be one worth telling. So, even with my limited knowledge of the film, I was excited to see what could be done with this source material.
Lupita Nyong’o, I shouldn’t have to say anymore. Nyong’o was an Oscar winner three years ago for her tremendous turn in “12 Years a Slave”, and she is absolutely fantastic again in this movie. Nyong’o as Phiona’s mother really brings the widest range of emotion to the film as a whole, and I found her to be the show stealer in nearly every scene she was in. It’s early, but I expect Nyong’o’s name to be on the shortlist for Best Supporting Actress yet again this year.
Along with Nyong’o, David Oyelowo gives a great performance here as Phiona’s teacher. Oyelowo may never hit the notes he hit in “Selma”, but that is asking for quite a lot. Oyelowo does exactly what he has to do here and more, and he was very enjoyable to watch from start to finish.
Those performances were to be expected, but to see the unknown child actors play all their parts incredibly well was a great sight to see. From Madina Nalwanga in the lead to all the Ugandan children with her, each of them held their own between two stars, and that helped the film truly succeed.
There is quite a bit of emotion in multiple scenes here, and director Mira Nair does a solid job at really earning the feels. While I never shed any tears, there are a lot of truly sad scenes that did not feel forced at all, and it really made me feel for Phiona’s family throughout the film.
Making chess interesting and fast paced is a challenge in its own right, no offense to the massive chess enthusiasts, but, for the most part, I found the chess matches incredibly entertaining and intriguing to watch, especially those earlier on in the film.
There are moments in the movie, mostly in early character development, where the dialogue felt too on the nose. This happens in movies all the time, but for some reason, I really noticed how hard the film was forcing its character development and conflicts early.
This film also feels very Disney-like in its storytelling, especially because the film maintains a PG rating. This is a great true story and I’m not taking anything away from that, but I think this movie really could have made a massive impact if it didn’t play it so safe with its rating. The emotion is well-done like I said, but if this film could have gotten into how brutal it was living in Uganda and how hard it was for Phiona to get to where she ends up getting, it would have made a much larger impact than what it does.
There are moments in which the movie just moves a bit too fast for its own good. Whether that be because there’s a lot of storylines to fit into two hours, or because they found some moments to be less important, I would have liked to seen more build up in a handful of scenes, especially those involving the chess competitions.
“Queen of Katwe” benefits from great performances from its entire cast, and an especially great one from Lupita Nyong’o, as well as having a lovely story to base off of that leads to some powerful emotion and many interesting scenes involving the sport of chess. While it may not live up to its full potential because of its kid-friendly rating, I had a very nice time watching “The Queen of Katwe”, as it is another film to add to Disney’s solid repertoire.
What did you think of “Queen of Katwe”? Comment below with what you thought.