If you’re of a certain age, it’s likely Cool Runnings would have been one of your favourite films growing up. The perennial story of the underdog – with a sporting twist – Disney have now crafted a film of a distinctly similar mould, as The Queen of Katwe delves into comparable territory, and is a film that could have the very same impact on the next generation as it once did on ours.
Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) lives in poverty with her mother (Lupita Nyong’o) and siblings, desperately seeking a distraction – which she finds when stumbling across the chess club, set up by coach Robert Katende (David Oyelowo). Spotting the potential in this young girl, despite having no prior experience playing the game, she becomes the leading light of the collective, and thrives on the big stage too, as they travel across the nation to compete in tournaments – which she has a knack of winning. As they prepare for international events outside of Uganda, at prestigious schools around the world, she must overcome any societal boundaries, and appreciate she has a place amongst those more finally privileged than she is.
Mira Nair’s tale thrives in the perennial notion of the underdog, as a youngster who, while incredibly talented, is looked down upon by those she competes with: those with an education. But, and much like the rules of chess itself, there are many ways for the little guy to topple the supposed powerful, and it’s this sentiment the film revels in. There’s an indelible, enchanting tone to this piece too, utilising the African setting to inform the music and the vibrancy of the aesthetic. The narrative is brought to life in remarkable fashion too by the likes of Oyelowo and Nyong’o, the former in particular turning in an (unsurprisingly) commendable performance, with such warmth to his demeanour.
Naturally The Queen of Katwe does become somewhat melodramatic in parts, which leaves the viewer questioning quite how much artistic licence was taken, but so what of it – this is an inspiring, ineffably cinematic tale that preaches such a positive message to always believe in yourself – and for that it’s allowed to be a little overstated in parts. For this is a film that is rewarding to experience and has a lot to say, and yet all the while following the beats of the sporting genre in an affectionate, triumphant way.