A modicum of Oscar buzz briefly surrounded Queen of Katwe, Mira Nair’s Disney-produced portrait of a real-life Ugandan chess prodigy, after it won a runner-up People’s Choice Award at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. But ultimately, its spot on the ballot sheets was pinched by Garth Davis’ Lion. In comparison, Nair’s film is a more structurally conventional, broad-strokes affair. It starts out quite promisingly, with Nair striking a vibrant, family-friendly tone that nevertheless engages with the harsh realities of life in modern Kampala.
In one standout moment, protagonist Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) confides in her older sister Night (Taryn Kyaze) that she fears their family is being punished by God. Night’s response is bracingly direct and unsentimental: “I don’t think God cares about us one way or the other.” What a shame then, that Nair subsequently resorts to shameless heartstring-tugging, and struggles to inject any real tension into the pivotal chess games.
Queen of Katwe | Directed by Mira Nair (US 2016) with Madina Nalwanga and David Oyelowo. Starts April 20.
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