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|