Despite having somewhat of a stigma as a pursuit for ‘nerds’ or ‘dweebs’, chess has maintained a status somewhere between a sport and board game. Grandmasters are treated as celebrities and the World Chess Championship attracts huge media attention. It’s also a documentary favourite, producing Searching for Bobby Fischer, Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine and other great films. Benjamin Ree’s new documentary, Magnus, focuses on the latest poster boy of chess.
Magnus Carlsen is known as the ‘Mozart of Chess’. Highly introverted as a child, Magnus took up chess at an early age and soon found he had a natural talent for it. Before long he was beating players much older than himself. By the age of 13 he was a Grandmaster, the third-youngest ever. Whilst other players choose to use computer programs and teams of experts to minutely analyse the game, he has the unique ability to visualise in his head. Instead of a huge entourage, Magnus prefers to relax in the company of his family.
Ree traces his rise to fame through home videos, archive footage and interviews with the family. It builds up tension as the Norwegian prepares for his first shot at the World Chess Championship in 2013. Compared to the then champion Viswanathan Anand, who has a team of analysts paid to study and memorise whole games, he’s a breath of fresh air. Magnus is a fascinating documentary which uses unprecedented access to paint a compelling portrait of a fascinating character and undoubted genius.
Magnus is out in cinemas from Friday.