Saturday, 29 October 2016

Queen of Katwe

My second visit within two days to the Cineworld Bolden (26 October 2016) was for the film Queen of Katwe which has received a good review on the Friday afternoon film  institution with Simon Mayo and Dr Mark Kermode.  The film is set and made entirely in the Uganda of the present day, a country with no welfare state as we have come to expect in the UK, no free education, no free NHS and no public welfare system, with population half that of the UK, entirely land locked, corruption rife and poor and with a UK heritage, political framework and one of the countries with the poorest populations on the planet and where oil will transform the economy over the next decade. I will return to the reality of the country and its people as I consider the film as a film and as commentary on some of the issues which the film raises. I am also reading the book upon which the film is based and will reconsider, add and perhaps revise this first review when the reading is completed

The film has been advertised as about a school age child from Uganda, Phiona Mutesi, now 20 who has become a chess champion as a school age child of a single parent when her partner dies of Aids and forced to find a new life renting a hovel with no energy, no water and no toilet in one of the horrendous shanty town of Kampala, more familiar to us from those in South Africa or India dominated by drugs, prostitution and other forms of crime.

For me the heroine is the mother played by Lupita Nyong’o, Academy award supporting for her performance in 12 Years a slave, a woman born in Mexico of Kenyan parents and who now has roles in the Star Wars films, in the latest Jungle book, has commenced to write, direct as well as performances on TV and the theatre. She portrays the mother as someone with good standards, protecting her children, unwilling to take the routes offered by men and putting the welfare of the children before her own.

The film is also about a Robert Ketende whose story merits as much attention. He was an illegitimate child brought up by his grandmother, living in the bush for three years during one of the times of internal conflict in his country, He was reclaimed by his mother, a nurse but she died after two years. He could get and education and to graduate as an engineer but unable to find work because of the lack of family background and connections. He could pay his way as a young man through football skills and had some talent until injury turning to being a coach working for a government outreach programme, he also decided to use his ability as a chess player to teach life skills, thinking ahead, strategy, and confidence. In the films, it is first the brother of Phiona who attends his chess project in Katwe and soon she is beating everybody including Robert through the natural ability to remember moves and predict ahead.

Although the children commenced to have success, they could not read or write so he became a maths teacher and through this activity met his wife who comes across as an important rock upon which his subsequent life is based. Through the success of his work with Phiona he has progresses in his role working for the government on its outreach programme, also spending time in Kenya and in the USA adopting his methods. In the film his role is played by David Oyelowo who is now best known for his role as Martin Luther King in Selma

The films show how difficult Phiona find her life hustling the streets of Kampala to earn the money to help pay for the rent and family food and her world changes when she follows her bother and finds that he has joined the chess club and then that she has an aptitude. The film charts her amazing progress and overcoming the obstacles which come their way. The family becomes homeless when the rent money is sued for hospital, care, treatment and medicine. For her bother who is hurt in a road accident. Her eldest sister rebels and joins up with a man with dubious income and intentions, despite mothers warning and threats. For a time, the young woman can buy clothes and hair styles and through Phiona she can financial help the family.

Because of the progress of Phiona they can move into a new home, albeit primitive and because of the rains and flooding everything is lost again with the life of a younger brother in doubt for a time. Mother is resistant and suspicious about the involvement of her children in club and even more so when there is travel out of the country to the Sudan and then by air to a chess tournament in Moscow. The promise of education for children makes the difference and in the credits at the end of the film all the children except the eldest daughter are progressing through further education, she is discarded and becomes pregnant and continues to bear children although the circumstances of this is not stated.

The break through comes because of the relation David has with the chess federation in Uganda, his government work and a relationship with one of top schools at which the team and Phiona can shine after learning some of the basics of social behaviour.  Phiona becomes national celebrity and a heroine in Katwe. The film ends with family being able to move to a proper home with fertile grounds providing a regular income for the family. David rejects the offer of a position as an engineer during the film, supported by his wife, to pursue the outreach work for the government. There is some relevant enjoyable African music throughout the fim shot on location and the failure of the film to make the top ten box office is very worrying for what is says about British cinema audiences. I will be disappointed if the film and its actors are not recognised   worldwide as an important inspirational work based on fact. I am looking forward

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