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A young carer, desperate to live the life of his friends, finds caring for his Mum gradually eats away at his freedom. When he discovers his unique talent at Chess, some order and purpose returns to his chaotic life. He discovers that in order to progress through the ranks of the Chess world, he not only has his individual opponents to beat, but the might of the class system too.
EMILY SANDS (30’s) and her son HARRY (12) enter a grand suburban house. Harry marvels at the splendour of the hallway as his mum sets about her cleaning job. His attention turns to an ornamental chess set and he stares at it. Mesmorised. At that moment the house owner, DR GREEN (40’s), an archetypal absent-minded professor returns to collect his forgotten phone. Seeing Harry’s interest in the set, he goes to his nearby study which is packed with Chess paraphernalia – establishing that Dr Green’s interest in Chess is clearly more than just a hobby. He gives Harry a beginner’s Chess set and rules. Harry studies the rules intensely and Dr Green is impressed by his understanding of the game over the next few months.
Emily develops a rare but debilitating neuromuscular condition forcing her to stop work and Harry’s ability to take part in the everyday things of his peer group is continually eroded during the next seven years. When he is told he will not be able to play for his local football team because he misses too many training sessions, Harry sits in silence in his Mum’s house. His eyes rest on the Chess set Dr Green gave him. On his laptop he competes under the online name "Fellaini". Based upon the limited snatches of time Harry has to participate, his ability to compete in the online world is totally unfettered. Becoming gradually aware of his talent and the potential for high earnings from the sport, spurs him on. The albeit slight chance to provide the best possible care for his mum.
Harry’s girlfriend CARMEL (18) - a thoughtful and free thinking child of her time - receives a text from Harry telling her he won’t be able to come with her to see an exhibition at the Tate and she turns back from her journey to the exhibition and arrives at Harry’s to help him. There, in this totally silent scene, the two of them prepare Emily’s dinner. Carmel is staggered by the domestic abilities he has honed for half of his life. But it’s a talent developed at the expense of the multitude of experiences he has missed out on and the realisation hits Carmel in the solar plexus. Harry’s rise through the world of online chess is dramatic, anonymous and unpaid. To earn anything from the sport he will need to compete in real-life tournaments. This provides a challenge to Harry, because it means he will lose the flexibility he found in the online world and also because in order to compete at the highest level he will need to apply for membership of the British Chess Federation.
Harry sits in the oak panelled chambers of the British Chess Federation. The interview is delayed by one of the committee members who is running late. Eventually they decide to start in their colleague’s absence. It doesn’t go well; they seem to be more interested in where he went to school than his ability to play Chess. Harry leaves. As he does, he brushes past the missing member of the committee; it’s Dr Green, characteristically disorganised. As they pass on the stairs, there’s a slight pause as they appear to vaguely recognise one another. Dr Green is too late but as the declined stamp is about to land on the application, he demands to see it. Immediately recognising Harry’s name, he insists on reconvening the proceedings but it appears futile.
Weeks later the gravel crunches underfoot on the approach to the grand setting of a national Chess tournament and Harry enters. He takes his seat to begin the contest; his battle already won.
Notes: The tone of the film is one of triumph over adversity, (punctuated with a number of silent scenes illustrating the often silent world of carers and their largely unheard plight) but not in a way that trivialises their situation. Although they reach a happy ending it is not without the chance and episodic incidents which provide Harry with his route map to success. A route map he has gained priceless limited access to, but one his middle class peers have in their possession for life.