Queen of Katwe is the true story of Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a young girl living in the poorer areas of Uganda with her mother (Lupita Nyong’o) and siblings. She’s making do with what she’s got, but with no education, very little food and a house that they’re struggling to keep up with the rent for, things aren’t going well. That’s when Phiona meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), who introduces her to the game of chess. She excels at the game, making her way up through the ranks and winning several competitions. With the help of Robert, Phiona tries to rise up and become a master, hoping to change her life for the better.
I do love a good underdog story. It’s hard not to. Seeing the little guy come out on top is always a joy, and this applies for Queen of Katwe. Phiona has very little to lose. The odds are completely and utterly against her, yet she powers on. She does her best, her attitude almost always positive. However, the film does have its fair share of familiarities in terms of narrative structure. It plays out pretty much exactly how you’d expect it to go, and the basis of the plot has been done in several other films. The story itself is fun and new, but it’s told in a generic, been there-done that sort of way.
Thankfully, the film is just so wonderful and fun that I was happy to watch it, and it helps when the performances are as good as they are. David Oyelowo, like he always is, is fantastic. He works as a father figure to Phiona, who’s grown up with just a mother, and he’s great. Lupita Nyong’o is also excellent, giving an emotional and honest performance as Phiona’s mother. The real star of this movie, however, is Madina Nalwanga. This is her first feature film, and she kills it. She gives it her absolute all, and she delivers. If this kid doesn’t go on to wonderful places in life, I will be disappointed. She is excellent.