But Disney have got their hands on her backstory, adapting
Tim Crothers’ book The Queen of Katwe into
the kind of sport movie described as ‘feel good’ (to distinguish it from ‘feel
bad’ sport movies like Million Dollar
Baby, we suppose). And it’s surprisingly great. It earns the term ‘feel
good’, largely by addressing the fact that success at sport doesn’t always feel
good. Queen of Katwe is a solid triumph
because it doesn’t ignore the possibility of hollow victory. This is our pick of films for families this October half term.
Director Mira Nair (Monsoon wedding, Salaam Bombay!) has a home in the Ugandan capital Kampala, in
which Katwe is located, and her strong sense of the place serves the film well:
Queen of Katwe gives us an inevitably
Disneyfied Katwe, but one that also feels reasonably authentic, grounding
Mutesi’s achievement in sufficiently credible daily struggle. It’s here, aged
nine, that Mutesi is tempted into a Christian ministry by the free food and
ends up sitting at a chess board.
The complimentary porridge has more immediate appeal for
obvious reasons. Selling maize and living in a rickety hut with her siblings
and widowed mother (a wonderful Lupita Nyong’o), Mutesi’s home isn’t exactly
overflowing with food. But under the tutorship of the ministry’s teacher Robert
Katende (David Oyelowo), Mutesi comes to appreciate the inherent levelling
nature of the game – ‘in chess,’ another child tells her, ‘the small one
becomes the big one’ – and discover her own prodigious talent.
Most of the movie is Mutesi and Katende overcoming various
stumbling blocks (social, financial, bureaucratic) on the road to the climactic
championship. It isn’t unclichéd, but it avoids the most pernicious tropes of
the genre (there aren’t any invented rivalries or 'white saviour’ characters)
and, as mentioned, is clever on the ambivalent feelings that can attend
winning. At two hours long, Queen of
Katwe has time to explore its nuances, and Nair is careful to make sure
that it never feels like a wish-fulfilment fantasy – something that can
befall even ‘true story’ films.
As Disney absorbs Star
Wars and Pixar-type animations into its empire, it’s good to see that it
can produce relatively understated but (yes) ‘feel good’ dramas like Queen of Katwe.
|What||Queen of Katwe film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
21 Oct 16 – 21 Dec 16, Times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more details|