By Roger Thomas
I like chess. I like the way chess sets look. I like the game, though I am not a very good player. I like movies about chess. “Queen of Katwe” is the latest film based on a true story about a youth who is gifted in her skill of the game.
“Queen of Katwe” may not be the best film about chess, but it is one of the top two that I have seen. The filmmakers use this true story to offer opportunities for parents and children to have valuable conversations.
Phiona Mutesi, played beautifully by Madina Nalwanga, is the main character of this true story. She is a young girl living under very harsh conditions. The first conversation a family could have is about the vastness of our lives compared to the meekness of the life of Phiona, her two brothers and her mother, played by Academy-Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o.
Then there the is a lesson of not giving up. Phiona does not always succeed. In fact she considers giving up often in the film. Her coach reminds her that life is like chess, sometimes you have to “Clear the board, reset it and play again.” Good advice for people of all ages. I have quoted it to my children a few times since I saw the film. I am not sure they have embraced the philosophy yet, but they will probably hear a few more times.
That is two of the lessons, and I am sure everyone will discover more as they watch this film.
There is many strengths in the film. First Phiona has an older sister who is not living with the family at the beginning of the film. The film does an exceptional job of depicting her lifestyle. To adults it is obvious that she is making some questionable decisions including the boy she is spending time with, however, all of this is very tasteful in its depiction.
Another great decision by the filmmakers is how they present the closing credits. I will not give away what happens but I found it truly touching and wished other films based on true events would follow this example.
Overall, the screenplay is solid. The performances are touching, especially Madina Nalwanga and Robert Katende who plays Phiona’s chess coach. Add the that all the gifted children who plat students in Phiona’s chess class and Lupita, and this was quite a cast. One other trait is that the film is very colorful visually.
There are several films about chess. “Searching for Bobby Fischer” still remains my favorite. I saw that film in 1993 and it was the first film about chess I had ever seen. The film tells the true story of a young boy named Josh Waitzkin who takes an interest in the game after seeing men playing it in a park. That film has some several great lines but my favorite is “He knows you disapprove of him. He knows you think he’s weak. But he’s not weak. He’s decent.”
More recently in 2014 the film “Pawn Sacrifice” played in theaters. It starred Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer. That film left me disappointed. “The Dark Horse” also came out in 2014 in the country of the film’s origin, New Zealand. It later played in the States in April of this year. “The Dark Horse” tells the story of a chess prodigy teaching youngsters the game much like the plot to “Katwe.”
If you like chess, then you will find something appealing in all these films, but see “Searching for Bobby Fischer” and “Queen Katwe” first and foremost. You cannot go wrong with these two fine films about children and the art of chess. Along the way these films may touch your heart.