Mix genius, addiction, personal tragedy and triumph, and you get coming-of-age miniseries The Queen’s Gambit.
Premiering to rave reviews on Netflix last year, The Queen’s Gambit tells the story of Beth Harmon, an introverted young girl (then woman) who discovers her masterful affinity toward chess. The seven-episode miniseries is based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, and depicts fictional events with calculated chaos – in the best possible way.
Anya Taylor-Joy stars as young adult Beth, and just like the chess board Beth conjures on the ceiling, Joy is present. She listens – thinking, mapping out her every move before our very eyes. Never before has the sport seemed so captivating, so enthralling.
Starting the show with a splash, Beth awakes fully clothed and soaking wet in a bathtub after an unmistakable night of passion. She collects herself as best as she can, swallows a couple of pills and rushes out to confront a major rival in the series, the Russian world champion chess player known as Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorociński).
Viewers meet nine-year-old Beth at the scene of the car crash that killed her mother, orphaned, alone, stoic. She is carted off to an orphanage where tranquilizers are daily supplements, and where an equally stoic janitor teaches her to play chess.
Director Scott Frank utilizes the creeping, slow pacing set in the script and dances with it, taking risks and controlling the narrative just as a grand champion chess player would. We are given insight on the mind of Beth, how she ticks, what deep-seated trauma pushes her forward.
A period piece set in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, The Queen’s Gambit employs stellar costumes, makeup and setpieces to transport us back to a time where women rarely, if ever, played chess against men. Beth floats into their world with big eyes, hungry for victory and the desire to be the greatest chess player in the world.
As Beth grows up, so do the people around her. A string of intelligent lovers cross her path, but nothing compares to her love of chess, or even her relationship with Jolene (Moses Ingram), a young girl who is Beth’s closest friend at the orphanage.
Because it’s a limited series, the entire arch is told over the course of one season. Thanks to entrancing music and consistent pacing, The Queen’s Gambit is one story anyone could binge in one weekend.
Strong character choices, revealing dialogue and a captivating story will have you thinking about this series for a long time.
Series: The Queen’s Gambit
Genre: Drama, Sport
Certification: TV-MA (Mature Audiences) for moderate sex, language and drug and alcohol use
Currently available to watch/stream on Netflix
Dir. by Scott Frank
Based on the novel The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis