Adaptation Biography

'Queen of Katwe' TIFF 2016 Review: Finding joy and inspiration in the unlikeliest of places

September 11, 2016Ben MK

Movies based on real-life underdog stories have always been a proven draw at the box office, and if there's a studio that knows how to churn them out like clockwork, it's Disney. Still, don't let the opinions of cynical cinephiles stop you from seeing one of this year's most uplifting and feel-good films. Because Queen of Katwe is this year's Slumdog Millionaire.

Based on author Tim Crothers' 2013 book, "The Queen of Katwe: One Girl's Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion," the film follows young Phiona Mutesi (newcomer Madina Nalwanga), a girl from the Ugandan slums of Katwe, where she lives with her fiesty single mother Harriet (Lupita Nyong'o) and her three siblings, younger brothers Richard and Brian, and older sister Night. Resigned to selling maze in the streets to support her struggling family, Phiona finds herself introduced to the joys of chess by a kindly coach named Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), and the discovery of her hidden talent for the game opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Directed by Mira Nair from a script by William Wheeler, Queen of Katwe is straightforward to the letter, adhering to the template set forth by films like Rudy and Million Dollar Arm. Nonetheless, that doesn't make the movie any less heartwarming and inspirational, especially when it comes to the charismatic performances of the actors. Imbuing the film with humor and a natural, down-to-earth charm, Nyong'o, Oyelowo, Nalwanga and the cast of mostly unknowns play their roles with genuine heart. And in the end, that's what Queen of Katwe is all about.

Queen of Katwe is receiving its world premiere as part of TIFF 2016's Gala Presentations programme. Its runtime is 2 Hrs. 4 Min.

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