I don’t usually go for sports films, but this one is different: The sport is CHESS.
Based on a novel by Walter Tevis published in 1983. The story starts in the dark hallways of a 1950s orphanage complete with a stern headmistress, rows of little beds lined up like soldiers and scads of little girls, all orphans. We see how the times for an orphan child were harsh, disciplined yet still mixed with some sense of belonging. The floors, hallways and walls are dim, grey and cold. We are prepared for a gloomy story. Then, the next morning we experience the routine of an orphan: school, prayer, music and line ups for…pills. There is the massive amount of medications that are passed out to the children each day. It is a shocking revelation to see how medicating children with tranquilizers was considered an acceptable solution.
This starts the ball rolling for the leading character, who as a small child of just 9 years old, becomes a pill addict. One day she discovers the caretaker playing chess. She asks him to teach her, and he refuses. He finally relents when he realizes she has understood the game with a razor sharp attention to details. This continues for many interesting scenes that are touching and help us understand her character. Soon, adoptive parents arrive to take her away from her only friend. Her path from a slip of a girl to one of the world’s most influential and successful chess players, is what carries you along in the story.
If you don’t know anything about chess, this is a nice way to be introduced to the game. What is it that makes her so special? Her ability to anticipate the moves on the chessboard; we share in this talent in the most wonderful way. The Production Design of this film and the clothes are perfection. The star of the film wears the period as if she was born to it. All these elements balance a stellar ensemble cast that draw you into the mood of the swinging 60s in the best way possible. Her orphan style is suitable and prim, as is her high school years. Then, she blossoms into a fashion plate and the transition is remarkable again with the help of the costume design. I predict the costumes and scenery will be mentioned in terms of the EMMY AWARD for best costumes and production design. Her performance is on track for a Golden Globe. Bet on it.
The dramatic and arresting the story draws you in and the excitement of the chess games rewards you. Her Friends, mostly guys, admire and believe in her. Once they were competitors, in the end, they are her friends. Her performance is so compelling that even when she is cooking an egg she is interesting. The icing on the cake is the beautiful settings taking you across the world from Paris to Russia to vintage Las Vegas. Check Mate.