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Queen of Katwe (2016) Reviewed By Jay

United States, 25 December 2015


Jay´s Review

This PG-rated film is for folks who love David v Goliath stories (I'm one of them). Award-winning director Mira Nair ("The Namesake") brings us the true story of a girl from Uganda who learns to play chess. Our screening audience had a BIG representation of children. I don't know if they were in chess clubs or what, but you could have heard a pin drop any time during the movie's 123-minute running time.

Based on Tim Crother's biographical book by the same name, screenwriter William Wheeler's screenplay brings us all the tension of a high-stress sport, the upbeat training of a would-be winner, and the exultation of watching someone come from nowhere to challenge the best of the best.

Nair's cast:


  • * Madina Nawanga (in her first role) is Phiona Mutesi, a happy, observant girl who is fascinated by the game but too shy to go in and learn how to play it. She IS defensive though, and lights into the first boy who insults her. Ultimately her goal is to become a Chess Grandmaster.
  • * David Oyelowo ("Selma") is her mentor, Robert Katende. He encourages this curious girl and is amazed by her natural aptitude. He offers books for her to study but she can't read. Robert tells Phiona that his chess school is for fighters!
  • * Lupita Nyong'o (Oscar winner for "12 Years a Slave") is Harriet Mutesi, anoverworked, angryand confused mother of four. Her girl Phiona has work to do and shouldn't be wasting her time on a game! When Harriet speaks English (the official language of Uganda) it is accented but when she speaks her native language, there are captions.

Many many things ring true: At their first competition, our country mice have anxiety attacks when confronted by the wealth and snobbery of the city mice; they have yet to master the self-control the other chess players demonstrate. I loved how people would growl at each other when provoked and I wish I could figure out how they pop their fingers; it is unique and effective. So is the way these events change the players, making it a challenge to go back home again and try to fit in.

This is Mira Nair's movie, so you can expect a wonderful series of curtain calls, as each actor with his or her name on display is joined by the "real" person with his or her name. In addition, she includes a brief update on the principals' lives since the events we just saw. Of course as soon as this is concluded, they all join in with a song and dance. Pure Bollywood! We love Mira.

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