At first glance a documentary about the life of a chess grandmaster may seem at best to appeal to a niche market, and at worst flat-out boring, but this feature-length production from Benjamin Ree will in fact capture the heart of any discerning viewer. Clearly aware of the fragile territory they’re working with, the team behind Magnus have put together a film that brings forth both interest and emotion, much to the surprise of a viewer who may be otherwise disinterested in the world of competitive chess.
Focusing on the current number one chess player in the world, Magnus tells the story of the Norwegian genius Magnus Carlsen, from his entry into national and global competitions at age 13 (when he became a Grandmaster) up until his career-defining match with former world chess champion Viswanathan Anand. Dubbed the “Mozart of Chess” (he is able to take on computers and come out on top due to his “intuition”), Carlsen’s mysterious yet natural talent is explored. The film features footage and interviews of Magnus at home with his supportive family, as well as carefully edited clips of his games throughout the years. It offers the full story of the child prodigy turned number one player, and all the ups and downs that came with getting there.
The story of Magnus Carlsen might seem like a good starting point for a Hollywood movie based on his life, and while that might very well be on the cards in the future, part of the appeal of Magnus is that it is made in a very similar way to a biopic. It is not, though it could easily be, a dull, narrated documentary of his matches and training methods, but a film just as much about chess as it is about the man and his history and personal life. The emotional connection this allows makes for intensely exciting viewing, particularly in the crucial match between Carlsen and Anand, where one cannot help but root for the hero of the piece.
Likewise, the subject matter is not remotely “dumbed down” and still features complex chess games and details of moves, which should appeal to anyone eagerly anticipating a new film about chess. It strikes a nice balance, and will manage to bring a few tears and many smiles to its audience as it concludes. Cleverly made and surprisingly interesting, Magnus is not a documentary that deserves to be ignored.
Magnus does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Magnus here: