Queen of Katwe (PG)

In a Word: Inspirational

Queen of Katwe2

Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) and Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) in Queen of Katwe. PICTURE: Edward Echwalu/© 2016 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

"Phiona not only has to decide to break out of the only life she has ever known and the future that already beckons her – 'Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place you belong,' Katende tells her, but she also faces the hardship of returning to her life in the slum to be a person she is no longer content to be."

A remarkable story of hope, Queen of Katwe tells the story of a girl living in a slum in Kampala, Uganda, who rose to become an international chess star and in doing so brought hope to an entire nation but especially to the community she comes from.

Based on a true story told in an article and book by sports journalist Tim Crothers, the film, produced by Disney and directed by Mira Nair, follows the journey of Phiona Mutesi whose life takes a different course when she meets Robert Katende, an engineer who, unable to get a job in his field, joins a sports ministry outreach in the Katwe slum and as well as teaching soccer, teaches children chess, always with the idea that it could be a gateway to a new life at the back of his mind.

Katende (played by David Oyelowo) soon discovers Phiona (played by Madina Nalwanga) has some talent and, along with the other boys and girls he encourages through the club, lobbies to have them included in a national schools competition (despite the fact they can’t afford the uniforms to go to school).

They – and in particular Phiona – meet with success and, urged on by Katende (supported by his long-suffering wife Sara (Esther Tebandeke)), she is soon launched on a pathway to become one of the country’s greatest chess champions.

But, of course, it’s not an easy pathway – Phiona also has responsibilities to help her widowed mother Nakku Harriet (played by Lupita Nyong’o) feed her family, even more so after her elder sister Night, played by Taryn Kyaze, leaves them for a man, and the film takes time to explore what it means for her and the other children from the slum to be exposed to a world that they can only temporarily live in.

Phiona not only has to decide to break out of the only life she has ever known and the future that already beckons her – “Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place you belong,” Katende tells her, but she also faces the hardship of returning to her life in the slum to be a person she is no longer content to be. Katende, meanwhile, is faced with his own issues as he tries to provide his family with the best life he can while following the calling of his heart. It’s these struggles which give depth to the film.

This is a deeply moving story and features some powerful acting by Oyelowo, as well as newcomer Mutesi, and Nyong’o. In fact there’s not really anyone who puts a foot wrong. The Christian faith of all the main characters plays a role in the film - after all, Katende is involved in what is presumably a mission outreach for the church - but not a particularly overt one: one of the more direct references is by Night, shortly before she leaves, who suggests to her sister that God doesn't particularly care about any of them. And while it is a film about chess, the film doesn't spend a lot of time dwelling on the intricacies of the game - it's the story of the players, not the game itself, that it's interested in.

There’s plenty of laugher, music and joy but also much to think about in what is a story of some truly remarkable people. A great movie to watch as we head to Christmas and think about the coming of Christ who came to offer us all a new life in Him. Do yourself a favour and make the time to see it.