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True stories about sport and the way it can drag a person out of a life of hopeless poverty are nothing new in the cinema. Queen Of Katwe is the utterly beguiling tale of Phiona Mutesi very sweetly played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga , whose family were so poor they could barely afford to keep a roof over their heads even in the slums of Kampala, Uganda.
The other children object to her presence — bluntly, she pongs — but Robert sees spirit in her, and even though she is illiterate, soon recognises the extraordinary mental agility required to play the game at a high level. Phiona Mutesi is pictured at the premiere of the new film about her amazing life.
But somehow they never sound corny; director Mira Nair Salaam Bombay! It feels thoroughly authentic. In which respect, credit is also due to cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. The colours and sounds of shanty-town East Africa are so strikingly realised that we practically get the smells, too.
But she is such engaging company that it hardly matters. There is no racial dimension, no snooty white colonials looking down their noses. But class looms large. He overcomes the snobbery of the Ugandan Chess Federation, who are eventually forced to endorse Phiona as their representative at a tournament in Moscow. And, though he yearns for an engineering job, he chooses instead to stick with his young charges; shades of Sidney Poitier in To Sir With Love, all those years ago.
Phiona follows her brother Brian to a chess club run by a charismatic outreach worker, Robert Katende played by David Oyelowo, left.