Review by John M. Delia, Jr.
I’ve watched many biographies, but not quite as compelling and heartfelt as Queen of Katwe. The film takes you into the heart of the story right away then works it charm throughout. Tugging at your heartstrings at times, the fine acting makes the story work right down to the inspirational ending.
This is a story of a young girl who lives in the slums of Uganda and finds a way to save her family. She is introduced to a game called chess and her natural ability takes her to places she has never dreamed of.
Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) and her family live in the shantytowns of Uganda. Her mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) is taking care of the whole family after her husband left sometime ago. Nakku has four children, the oldest is Night (Taryn Kyaze), then Phiona, her first son Mugabi Brian (Martin Kabanza), and a newborn child.
The slums are a place where people are forgotten, left to live in filth, and deal with the dangers that occur on a daily basis. Help is not expected, so Nakku’s family is forced to find ways to stay alive by selling whatever they can. Living in a broken down shack, selling maze (corn) to get money to eat and pay the rent, is the only way to get by. Without these things people will kick them out of their home and put them on the streets.
Just when things are getting worse, unexpected help comes from Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), a local children’s missionary helper they call Coach. He happens to be a brilliant engineer that graduated at the top of his class in college. Not able to find a job he is offered the position as coach for the soccer and chess programs. There Phiona gets introduced to chess and Coach discovers she’s able to progress quickly. When she starts to learn special movies on her own, Coach knows she’s ready for something bigger.
This film really shows how the people can be treated so negatively and miserably by their own government in country like Uganda where this true story takes place. Missionaries run by Ugandan’s citizens are the only way to survive and get the help they need to overcome the poverty and be able to get beyond the obstacles in their lives. It’s an eye opener and a chance to see the reality of it all first hand in Queen of Katwe.
After director, Mira Nair does an excellent job bringing this heartfelt movie to the screen. She shows the reality of how people some countries are living in subhuman conditions, but still fight to rise above the inhumanity to man. But, remember that this is only one story of hope and Phiona’s only one of thousands who must overcome tough obstacles and endure hardships even with a lucky break.
Queen of Katwe is not a documentary, but a biography that has a very good cast supporting the important story. At the center Madina Nalwanga does a terrific job of bringing the young girl to life showing the hardships and the ability of Phiona on her trek to succeed and win one of the most prestigious honors a young person can achieve. Her heartfelt performance will be remembered way after you watch the video. Remember replays are at the touch of a button.
“Queen of Katwe: Their Story” Director Mira Nair takes you behind the scenes in a three part documentary with the real life people represented in the film.
“A Spark of Inspiration” shows how Director Nair got involved in making the film and bringing it to the screen..
“Those Who Guide” interviews with the cast of characters and their counterparts.
“Audio Commentary” with Director Mira Nair. Turn this on and re-watch the film to find out many facts about the making of and the reality of it all.
The Future Is Bright (11:45): This piece focuses on the children depicted in the film and actors who portray them.
“A Fork, A Spoon, & A Knight” This is a short film directed by Mira Nail that gives a closer look at Robert Katende who they call Coach in the film.
Other special bonus features include Alicia Keys, a music video with Young Cardamon & HAB, deleted scenes and more.
Queen of Katwe has been rated PG by the MPAA for thematic elements, an accident scene and some suggestive material. You may want to see the film before allowing the very young to watch it as there are some scenes a might strongly depicted.
Final Grade: I give this biography my highest star rating for its production value including acting, direction and cinematography.
Specifications and additional video information:
Cast: Madina Nalwanga, Lupita Nyong’o, Taryn Kyaze, Martin Kabanza, David Oyelowo
Director: Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala)
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, an accident scene and some suggestive material
Genre: Biography, Drama
Running Time: 2 hrs. 4 min.
Video Release Date: January 31, 2017
Original Theatrical Release Date: September 30, 2016
Reviewed Format: Blu-ray (also available in DVD, VOD)
Audio: DTS HD Master Audio
Video: Widescreen, 1080p Aspect Ratio 2.39:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Number of Discs: 1 Disc
Distributed by: Buena Vista Home Entertainment