Queen to Play Movie Review


I just watched the French movie “Queen to Play” (“Joueuse” in French), which I got on DVD from Netflix (it is also available under the “Watch Instantly” option).  Here is the trailer. 

Without giving away too much of the plot, or any spoilers, it is about a maid named Hélène who develops a love for the game.

This movie is not a typical American movie, which was nice to watch for a change.  It is the type of movie that would be shown at Film Festivals or small independent art house type movie theaters, and only in major cities here in the U.S.

The movie is in French, and contains subtitles.  I don’t watch a lot of movies with subtitles, and didn’t find it distracting at all.

Here are some random things that I liked about the movie, and things that I think a lot of chess players can relate to.

  • Hélène has some low self esteem at the beginning of the film, and when she learns that the Queen is the most powerful piece, she smiles.
  • She starts to see chess everywhere, as she is starting to get obsessed.  She starts seeing, and playing chess on the tablecloth, tiles in the bathroom, tiles on the floor, etc.  This reminded me of a story that Shannon Fox once told me about having dinner with a chess player who was using salt shakers and anything he could get his hands on to describe his position.
  • frustration of playing the computer
  • At one point she is playing and losing over and over, but says “one last game”.  This is the type of attitude that turns makes a person into a good player.
  • She says “I don’t know” when asked why this game means so much to you.
  • She can’t sleep because she is thinking of chess

The movie shows the different stages of getting more serious about chess, which I really liked and thought was really accurate -

  • learning how the pieces move
  • playing a game but making illegal moves
  • trying to convince others to play with you, just so you can get more practice
  • getting mated right in the opening
  • playing with the clock (and forgetting to hit the clock after you make your move)
  • taking notation (and forgetting to write down your move)
  • ability to play blitz
  • playing in tournaments
  • being able to play without a board

Sandrine Bonnaire as Hélène in Queen to Play (2009)

Other things I liked

  • The setup of how she gets interested in it is great
  • You see how the game makes her happy, and gives her more confidence, but also starts to consume her.
  • The idea that it isn’t a just a man’s game.
  • Ideas about Chess as a sport, Chess as work
  • When the friends watch her play, and make too much noise
  • Chess wisdom sprinkled in, such as “one bad move can wipe out 40 good ones”
  • The movie was a good length at 97 minutes, and the acting was excellent (no Keanu Reeves as the chess dude going “Whoa” when she makes a good move).
  • How her husband played the role of the “chess widow”

Another thing I liked was that the movie didn’t have all of the typical chess movie cliches, or things that never happen in the real chess world

  • not every game had to end in checkmate (players resigned)
  • opponents aren’t talking to each other during the game
  • players don’t actually say check everytime the person is in check

One thing that didn’t make sense was when Kevin Kline’s character (her mentor) was playing through the game in his home while she was playing it in the tournament.  Was the game being broadcast on ICC or monroi.com or something?  There was no way he could expect the game to go as far as it did in the variation he was looking at, and would have no idea who her opponent would be, or what color she would be playing.  But I guess this was some way to have him involved, or show their connection and bond, so wasn’t a huge deal.

Overall I think that most chess players would really enjoy this movie.  If you are a married guy, and your wife complains that you only want to watch sports or action movies, this would be a good way to get credit for watching a “chick flick” that is secretly a “chess flick” :-)  I think all women chess players would love this movie.

Here is  one of the positions featured in the movie, with white to move.  See if you can find the winning move (Answer below).

White to Play

[Event “Moscow ch-URS”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “1991.??.??”]
[Round “6”]
[White “Sveshnikov”]
[Black “Ruslan Shcherbakov”]
[Result “1-0″]
[ECO “B30″]
[PlyCount “47”]
[EventDate “1991.??.??”]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 e6 4. O-O Nge7 5. c3 a6 6. Ba4 b5 7. Bc2 d5 8. e5 d4
9. Be4 Bb7 10. a4 Ng6 11. axb5 axb5 12. Rxa8 Bxa8 13. Na3 Na7 14. Bxa8 Qxa8 15.
Qb3 Qb7 16. cxd4 cxd4 17. Nxd4 Bxa3 18. bxa3 Nxe5 19. Bb2 Nc4 20. Qg3 O-O 21.
Bc3 g6 22. d3 Nb6 23. Qe5 Nd7 24. Qg7+ 1-0

If you have seen the movie, I would love to know what you thought!  Leave a comment below!

Other resources:

rottentomatoes.com Reviews of Queen to Play

imdb.com listing

Wikipedia Queen to Play


White has a brilliant mate in 3 with:

24.Qg7+ Kxg7 25.Nf5+ Kg8 26.Ne7#

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5 thoughts on “Queen to Play Movie Review

  1. Tim, thanks a lot for the indication to watch Joueuse. I loved the movie. Here’s my suggestion: if you haven’t seen it, don’t miss The Luzhin Defence, with John Turturro.
    Also, still on Joueuse – Queen to Play, perhaps you could go into a little more detail about the scene where they play mind chess, just softly reeling off the moves like they’re whispering love words. I thought that scene was amazing. Anyway, thanks again for the tip. Ad astra, my friend!

  2. Great review, and I’m glad you recommended this movie. I watched it and agree it is a good representation of chess, an accurate portrayal of he experience of chess for new tournament players and in particular for females.

  3. As usual your comments and problems not only excite me with a tactic but also offer something of chess culture to enjoy. Thanks for all of your work.

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