“The Dark Horse”: A Movie Review… and a Chess and Children’s Champion.


“The Dark Horse” (released in July 2014 and directed by James Napier Robertson) is a film telling the true story of a Māori ex-speed chess champ, Genesis Potini, a  “…charismatic, brilliant, but little-known New Zealand hero…”  http://www.nzfilm.co.nz/film/the-dark-horse

Once a champion chess player, Genesis (played by Cliff Curtis) suffered from bipolar disorder and spent years in and out of mental institutions.  After years of estrangement from family, (“the dark horse” is an interesting variation on “the black sheep”… as well as, of course, referring to the black knight in chess) Genesis returns to the neighbourhood where he grew up, released into the care of his older brother, Ariki.  He also begins to form a relationship with his nephew, Mana (Ariki’s son), whom he discovers is soon to be initiated into a gang, which Ariki is already involved in.  There are many bleak scenes in “The Dark Horse”, which is rated “R” for language and drug use.  The film is insightful: we may not agree with Ariki’s desire that his son join the gang, but we can understand that this is the only life he knows and, as his health fails, he also believes it to be a viable form of protection for Mana.  Ariki’s choices for his son are not “poor choices”: they are what Ariki believes to be the only choices.

At the advice of the mental health workers who cared for him, Genesis vows to “keep busy” and takes an interest in a kids’ chess club, the “Eastern Knights”, a group founded by a local couple, Noble and Sandy, to give underprivileged children a sense of purpose and belonging.

An emotionally charged and inspiring drama about a man who searches for the courage to lead, despite his own adversities – finding purpose and hope in passing on his gift to the children in his community”.   http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2192016/combined

As part of his bipolar disorder, Genesis is passionate about chess and an intense perfectionist.  On his first night in the chess club he tells the kids he will coach them to win the National Chess Championships in Auckland in six weeks’ time.


A scene from “The Dark Horse”

Noble (Kirk Torrance) and Sandy (Miriama McDowell) are concerned, knowing Genesis’ mental health history, that he might be speaking big words which he won’t be able to deliver on.  “You talk dreams to those tamarikis, you better follow through,” Noble tells him.

I love “The Dark Horse”, because, as well as questioning our notions about “mental health”, it is a movie about hope for children who might otherwise not believe in themselves and about having passion and following a dream.  It’s about cultural pride, dignity and self respect: about standing tall and giving something your best– the values and legacy Genesis Potini instilled in the children and young people he coached.

DH 2

The real Genesis Potini, coaching local children in the “Eastern Knights” Chess Club.

“The Dark Horse” has won a number of awards  and was labeled by leading New Zealand critics as “One of the greatest New Zealand films ever made”.  The film is being released theatrically in the U.S. by Broad Green Pictures on April 1st 2016.    


We at “The Forever Years” highly recommend this film.  (View the trailer below).



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