First things first what’s the attraction to Chess? The King of Games…Well first it’s one of the oldest games known to man, it’s technical and shows a lot of character of the person playing. As soon as you see a chess game set up in the movie you know there is a mental war going on. The cunning tactics that you need to lure a person into a trap, the poker face antics that are played until the final moments are all time which a director can really hit the message home that he’s playing for keeps, the characters are so high class and sophisticated if you’ve not picked up on a think or two then you’d better start taking notes.
There is usually a battle of minds, more than a battle of brawn, someone is up to an evil plan, so check the finer details and see if you can out play the director, and the most devastating move, death, usually this battle will result in some death in some way or in some scenes it will be played by death.
There has been a long lasting kinship between chess and cinema, often seen as the thinking man’s game it’s often used to display character and intelligence. Here’s a list of a few films that have some kind of chess connection.
01.Pawn sacrifice (2014)
The film that inspired this list. I am not a chess player myself, I struggle with draughts but I was really interested with this film, it had an usual atmosphere and based on real events, it was a chance to learn something and be entertained. Tobey Maguire, stars as Bobby Fischer, who battled against the soviet grandmaster Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). The film is as concentrated about the game as it the characters and tells a thrilling but tragic life story, filled with mental health issues and the US vs USSR cold war and how any event between the two countries was considered a full on war. 9/10
A loose connection this time, a girl is plagued by terrible visions and dreams, while taking some time out she is struck by an illness and during this time she applies lucid dreaming to work out the mystery behind the mysterious figures and especially the Horsehead. The imagery in this film is bewitching, there’s many arthouse scenes which really capture the imagination and the recurring horsehead often looks like it’s been plucked from the chessboard. Sadly I wasn’t gripped by the story 2/10
There is a link here I promise, the film details the power struggles of the royal family in China around 928AD the emperor (Chow Yun Fat) is slowly poisoning his wife (Gong Li) but as it works it starts to drive her insane and she secretly wages war on her family. The film is lavish, long and at times it’s a little complicated, BUT if you were lucky enough to get the special edition then it would have come with it’s own chess set, the one that Fat uses throughout to education his sons and it becomes apparent that the film is played like a chess game.. Go on re watch it and see. 6/10
04.5150 Rue Des Ormes (2009)
This film has a profound connection to the game. A young media student has a minor accident, he falls of his bike, going to a nearby house he is kidnapped and tortured into becoming a son to a very dysfunctional family, the father is obsessed with right and wrong, and teaches the boy through regular chess games, soon the game takes a more sinister role as the boy becomes obsessed and the father reveals his ultimate chess board with unusual devilish pieces. A stunning thriller that works on so many levels. 8/10
There isn’t much to do with chess in this game but it has an iconic character introduction as everyone’s hero MacReady plays electronic chess but apparently the bitch (voiced by Adrienne Barbeau) is cheating and MacReady puts a stop to that by giving her a Jim Bean bath. The only electronic reference on the list folks, as I feel it was an important step for the game. 10/10
After being a failure in the cinema the film soon picked up it’s rightful crown as a cult film after making it onto the TV and being adored by the masses, the protagonist Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) has an affinity to Chess and plans to carve a set from rocks he finds in the prisons yard. There’s minimal chess throughout the movie, Andy ends up playing checkers most of the time, but one of the main aspects of the movie are that Andy’s passions are all on hold while he’s in prison.
The head of the Tyrell Corp, is an avid and brilliant chess player and often beats his employee J F Sebastian, who play each other regularly, they are so familiar with each other that when a slightly psychotic android starts to help Sebastian with his moves and gives him the upper hand does Tyrell leave himself open for a checkmate.
08.Seventh Seal (1957)
Chess, the game of kings, a game pondered so intensely that it can be a matter of obsession, life and death, and in the Ingmar Bergman 1957 film starring a young Max Von Sydow he plays Death himself at a game of Chess, the scenery is stunning and the story revolves around the nobel game. With very black and white consequences.
This particular game of chess sticks in my mind, just because of the insanity of it all. the King, a total norbet has set up a giant chess board and the pieces are different breeds of dogs, each with his own handler. The game starts out lovely but what happens when you have multiple dogs in a confined space?
10.The Killing (1956)
this film noir doesn’t have a lot to do about chess but it has one particular scene which needs to be mentioned..