Amazon’s UK Prime Video customers were treated to a first for the streaming service last month when it released a movie to view on the same day as its theatrical release across the UK. Hollywood film star, Tobey Maguire of Spider-Man and The Great Gatsby fame, played the lead role in Pawn Sacrifice, an enthralling biopic about an American chess prodigy named Bobby Fischer, who was going head-to-head with some of the finest chess players of the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.
On its release date, 13th August, Amazon Prime subscribers in the UK were able to stream and download the movie at the same time it was available for screening in cinemas across Britain. Pawn Sacrifice tells the story of Bobby Fischer’s life as a man growing up in Brooklyn, his meteoric rise to fame as a chess star and his gradually declining mental state, due in no small part to his desire to win every chess match he played in.
The storyline is written by Steven Knight, the brains behind Peaky Blinders, and the film was directed by Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai). Maguire is joined by fellow film stars, Live Schreiber, who plays Russian prodigy, Boris Spassky, Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays the American lawyer who helps to promote the championship match between Fischer and Spassky, and Peter Sarsgaard, who plays Father Bill Lombardy and provides the emotional support to Fischer along his chess-playing journey.
Playing Bobby Fischer looked like an effortless task for Tobey Maguire, who has experience at being involved in high-pressured gaming situations in his personal life. Maguire has long been a poker fanatic, inspired by the Chris Moneymaker story back in 2003.
He took up tournament poker a year later and has struck up a friendship with world-renowned poker pro, Daniel Negreanu, who tutored Maguire to a string of appearances in major tournaments including the 2007 World Series of Poker (WSOP). The WSOP series of tournaments is held annually in Las Vegas and attracts qualifiers from home games as well as through online poker rooms such as 888poker, a company that guaranteed anyone who qualifies for the Main Event through their poker network a $10m jackpot should they win the final table, making up the difference from the actual prize pool.
Chess certainly doesn’t have the same glitz and glamour and certainly not the prize money that poker has. Nevertheless, Maguire perfectly depicts the mental quandary that Bobby Fischer found himself in. He became paranoid about relations with the Soviets, as well as with the White House’s close monitoring of his progress against his Russian competitors at the chessboard, factors that only served to heap further pressure on his shoulders.
Despite a successful ending against his nemesis Spassky, the mental effects of Fischer’s chess battle destroyed him emotionally, forcing him to become a recluse. Although the film was not deemed a financial success at the Box Office, Maguire certainly helped to raise awareness of the enormity of the political tensions between the US and the Soviet Union and the real-life torment that Bobby Fischer endured.