Chess in films: Anna, the chess playing assassin

by André Schulz
2/4/2021 – Chess has always been a popular theme in films. French director Luc Besson uses it in his latest film "Anna", an action movie released in 2019. Anna Poliatova, the main character of the film, is an excellent chess player, but unlike Beth Harmon in "The Queen's Gambit", she fails to have a successful tournament career but instead works as an assassin. | Photos: Studiocanal

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Anna: Assassin and chess player

Luc Besson is arguably the most successful French director of recent times. He scored his first big hit with the cool "Subway" (1985). Many other blockbusters followed, including action films such as "Nikita" (1990), "Léon: the Professional" (1994), "The Fifth Element" (1997) or "Lucy" (2014), but also family films such as "Arthur and the Minimoys" (three films, 2006-2010).

His most recent film is "Anna", released in 2019. Besson borrows here from his own great success "Nikita". Anna, a young woman (played by Sasha Luss), who has gone off the rails through no fault of her own is hired by an organisation to work as an assassin.

"Anna" is set at the end of the Cold War, in the mid-late 1980s, when the KGB and the CIA were still engaged in a war for information. After drug-addict Anna Poliatova (Sasha Luss) becomes involved in a robbery committed by her boyfriend, she receives a proposal from KGB officer Alex Tchenkov to work for the KGB as an agent and assassin. Originally, Anna had started training at a military academy to follow in the footsteps of her father. But the death of her parents threw her off track.

Alex Tschenkov has Anna trained as an agent and recommends her to his superior Olga (Helen Mirren) for higher tasks:

"She has top marks everywhere. She also beats everyone in chess."

Olga is not convinced: "I don't give a shit if she plays chess. If she fixes my heater, then I care about her."

Helen Mirren

But Olga mellows when Anna can recite from Chekhov's "The Seagull", Olga's favourite play, and later even develops motherly feelings for her agent.

Anna proves herself in a difficult test assignment and is sent to Paris where she pretends to be a model to carry out a deadly mission. But gradually, CIA agent Leonard Miller (Cillian Murphy) gets on her trail.

Deadly assassin

Anna is exposed by the CIA and has to work as a double agent to survive, though her greatest wish is to leave her dirty trade behind. The CIA orders Anna to kill KGB chief Vasiliev, who has been responsible for the persecution and death of many US agents. A seemingly impossible task for Anna, but she receives support from an unexpected source and is also able to use her chess skills.

Check and mate!

"Anna" is currently available at amazon.


Directed by Luc Besson
Produced by

Luc Besson
Marc Shmuger

Written by Luc Besson

Sasha Luss
Luke Evans
Cillian Murphy
Helen Mirren

Music by Eric Serra
Cinematography Thierry Arbogast
Edited by Julien Rey

Summit Entertainment
TF1 Films Production

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer


Chess in films...

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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