Chempion Mira is about Anatoly Karpov and his world championship victory in 1978. The biopic was released in Russia on 30 December and is screened internationally as The World Champion. Although the costs have not been released it must have been one of the most expensive Russian productions. The 145-minute movie was shot in Russia, the Netherlands, Spain, Thailand and the Philippines. Apart from Russian stars, foreign actors were hired.
It was written and directed by Aleksey Sidorov who made his name with action movies. His box office hit T34 (2018) may best be described as a Russian version of Rambo. Chempion Mira was co-financed through the Kremlin’s film fond. Its producer Nikita Mikhalkov is a close friend of President Vladimir Putin. Two earlier Mikhalkov productions had celebrated Soviet sport exploits of the 1970s: While Legend No. 17 (2013) tells the story of the hockey team beating Canada, Dvizhenie Vverkh (2017), internationally released under the titles Going Vertical or Three Seconds, featured a victory of the Soviet basketball team against the United States. But Chempion Mira is not doing similarly well at the box office in spite of being played in 2000 theatres.
Chempion Mira celebrates Soviet sport exploits of the 1970s like the earlier Mikhalkov productions Legend No. 17 and Going Vertical but isn’t doing similarly well at the box office.
Like in The Queen’s Gambit chess is represented meticulously thanks to having Daniil Dubov as a consultant. As if to pick up where the netflix series ended, Chempion Mira starts in the 1960s and is set in the 1970s. But it’s a fairytale of a different kind. The film embellishes everything to make Karpov look good. While he won the 1978 match by the narrowest of margins he wins on the screen big time. His counterpart Korchnoi who defected in 1976 is depicted as a moron without manners. He eats at the board, fumbles with a rosary, pushes the clock, moves while standing, gambles, swears and insults.
Karpov is always kind and polite and only refuses a handshake after his team was offended. He proves to the world that he is worthy champion in spite of all the obstacles: At home his father is dying. Officials are conspiring against him to save their heads in case he loses to the traitor. Even his wife takes part in their intrigues. On the Philippines he is suffering from the tropical climate. One night he wakes up next to a huge snake. How could this beast make it to an 11th floor hotel room? An earlier version of the screenplay that found its way to Genna Sosonko had the CIA plotting against Karpov, but that part was dropped.
The traitor Korchnoi is depicted as a moron without manners. He eats at the board, fumbles with a rosary, pushes the clock, moves while standing, gambles, swears and insults.
Football matches back in Russia are interrupted to announce his victories. A visit to a basketball match by the Soviet team in Manila gives the exhausted champion inspiration to win the final game. Tolka, as his family and friends keep calling him, even finds a way to let his wife help his victory and save his marriage. When the arbiter brings the news that Korchnoi has resigned the adjourned position and thus the match, the Soviet flag is hissed.
Chempion Mira is patriotic kitsch and a monument to Anatoly Karpov who was involved as a consultant and talked at length about the movie on the talkshow of Anton Krasovsky. The 70-year-old former world champion is a member of United Russia, the party that supports Putin, and has been serving his government in different political functions since 2006. Victor Korchnoi died in 2016 and his late wife Petra Leeuwerik in 2021. According to Sosonko it’s for the better that they didn’t live to see this one-sided movie which adds another layer to the dirtiest world championship match in history. Anyone interested in its real circumstances should rather watch the English documentary Closing Gambit (2018).