In a year that has already given us one far from stereotypical sports biopic, in the shape of ‘Eddie The Eagle’ could 2016 do the double and craft an entertaining film based around chess!? In the hands of Disney ‘Queen of Katwe’ is certainly given the best chance it could get.
Filmed entirely on location in Africa this film holds a real authenticity to it, we get to see the actual slums that our characters live in which really helps the audience get to grips with life for these people. Combined with the costume design and the work from the extras the scene is most definitely set in an impressive way, reminiscent of the likes of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. There are two big names associated with this cast and both do an unreal job here. Firstly we have David Oyelowo who plays the chess coach for the main character Phiona. Oyelowo is wonderful in this role being a coach, a husband and a father all at once. If the real life man that Oyelowo plays is even half as endearing and compassionate as his portrayal of him I can understand why Phiona was so taken with him. However it is Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o who steals the show giving an utterly heartbreaking performance as Phiona’s mother Nakku. This is easily her best role since ’12 Years a Slave’ and it was her character that I found myself connecting with the most thanks to such a stunning turn from the talented actress. Just before the credits the film includes a nice touch showcasing the real life people alongside the actors and actresses who portrayed them informing the audience of what they are doing now. This was a touching way to end the film and made up for some of the problems that unfortunately were present throughout.
I think that the biggest problem with this film is the focus on chess. Chess isn’t exactly the most thrilling spectator sport and even if you are a fan of the game, like myself, you need to be able to study the board yourself to really follow things. Obviously prolonged shots of the board during matches wouldn’t make for a great film but this causes a lack of involvement from the audience which over time became a problem. As we are shown match after match but not really involved in these, reading facial expressions rather than really watching the game the film does become monotonous and feels an age longer than it really is. As well partly due to the nature of the way the chess scenes play out the audience don’t really feel the despair when things don’t go to plan or the euphoria when things do, something that ‘Eddie the Eagle’ nailed. Chess aside there are other problems too. A lot of the younger performers had quite thick accents which at times made the dialogue hard to understand, I’d rather have had the film shot in the African tongue and subtitled. One other problem was the main character, Phiona. I just didn’t like her. I found her character to be over confident and not in an endearing way. I wasn’t routing for her in the way I should have been and I was always more interested in the other members of her family and their stories.
I’ve no doubt that this is a inspiring and powerful story but the way in which the narrative is told in ‘Queen of Katwe’ doesn’t put this across in an all that entertaining manner. With a not so likeable main character and issues with the core focus of the movie it’s really hard to stick with this film. Thanks to the fantastic performances of Nyong’o and Oyelowo though the film is saved from being a complete misfire.
Rating – 6/10
Question: What’s your favourite sports biopic?
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