With the world seemingly at a standstill, the one consistent vice has been at the tip of our fingers; bingeable streaming programming. It’s been a necessary outlet for the world to take their minds off of what is happening outside while allowing us to become completely sucked into the world we are viewing. Thanks to the Netflix’s, Hulu’s and HBO’s the sheer amount of content that’s available to watch is insurmountable but lucky for us it’s an embarrassment of riches. If you were to watch one brand new series in the year 2020, that series, although limited (It sucks, I know) is The Queen’s Gambit.
Netflix has done it again – from Stranger Things to Black Mirror to Ozark and Mind hunter Netflix has once again given the world something to pour over and become total fanboys and fangirls. Based on the novel of the same name written by Walter Tevis, The Queen’s Gambit is infectiously addictive and the fact that it’s only 7 short hour-long episodes sucks. That is the one of the two bad things about this series. The other bad thing is an issue with Netflix itself – When new original content is dropped, it’s all at once making any show forgettable a month after it’s released.
That same thing has happened with Stranger Things, three weeks after the latest season no one is talking about it anymore. I hope Netflix changes their methods and follows in the footsteps of Amazon Prime, Disney Plus and now HBO Max. They have dropped their new originals on a weekly basis keeping the conversations and addictions going for as long as the show is airing and well after. Sadly, The Queen’s Gambit will fall into that same stigma being on Netflix and to be honest it’s regrettable because the show is the best new piece of content released during this strange year.
“You need to relax. There’s no player in the world as gifted as you are. I haven’t the remotest idea what faculties a person needs in order to play chess well, but I am convinced that relaxation can only improve them.”
What writer / director Scott Frank has done is ingenious. The first episode alone transports the viewer into the time period completely. From the set design to the costumes and styles from that era, the feeling is completely authentic as if the viewer is living during the 60’s. That’s usually the highlight of period pieces. Look at Quentin Tarentino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – the transformation of Los Angeles feels vintage to that time period. This story however takes place mostly in Lexington, Kentucky but follows Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) all across the globe to different locations. Giving the unique feeling and look of each location and making it a reality.
Beth is an orphan by the age of 9 – her mother (who we see exclusively in flashbacks) is killed in a car accident leaving Beth to live at an orphanage. It’s here that she discovers her true and natural talent at the game of chess who she learns from Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp) the custodian at the orphanage. Beth makes it life’s goal to become the greatest chess player that has ever lived, and she quickly lives up to that prodigy hype.
Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance as Beth Harmon is the backbone of the entire series. She is uniquely beautiful that no matter what she’s doing on screen – drinking, taking pills or playing chess, you cannot take your eyes off of her. Every little detail about Beth is perfect – the way she raises an eyebrow or studies the chessboard – she’s mesmerizing and there is literally no other actress that could possibly play this role. Even with her addictions you can’t help but root for her because of the fact that she’s been an underdog her entire life.
“And you haven’t done anything like what I’m making you do now. We’re playing serious chess. Workmanlike chess. The kind of chess that is played by the best players in the world, the Soviets. And you know why they’re the best players in the world?”
Add to that fact that even her adopted mother Alma (Marielle Heller) tried convincing her to be more lady like and not play chess – you want Beth to shatter the glass ceiling and gender roles that are featured so predominantly throughout the series. Beth doesn’t want to get married right after high school like her classmates and her motivations are presented in a way that even the male characters can’t help but want her to succeed. Beth defies what society expects in a relatable way that is meant to empower women to prove that you can do anything and be anyone you want to be despite what others may say or think.
The Queen’s Gambit does just about everything flawlessly. One of those elements is the actual game that is at the front and center of Beth’s world: Chess. Not everyone understands the game of chess, but Scott Frank makes it look and feel easy enough to pick up and start playing. Chess is equally the focal point of the series as Beth is and it’s handled with grace. Frank understands how to captivate the viewer while a match is being played – when it’s an important match against other world class players, the game is slowed down so the viewer can feel invested.
Because of the handling and care of the game is the main reason the pacing is perfect. There is not a single moment that lingers longer than it needs to. When the story needs to be focused on, it is, and when moments can be glossed over there is no beat that is missed.
It can’t be understated how important the male characters are to not only the story as a whole but to Beth as a person. Each male character plays a specific necessary role in Beth’s life and without them, Beth isn’t the same person at the end of the story. Harry Beltik (Harry Melling), Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd), & Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) all impact Beth as a chess player and a human being. They all possess a certain wisdom and skill set that is needed for the story to feel multi-dimensional. Each push her past her comfort levels to make her the best chess player but also make Beth compassionate and decent. Beth could have easily followed Alma down the path of addiction – well, she does but it’s the assistance of these men that she’s able to break the cycle.
Overall, The Queen’s Gambit is a masterpiece of storytelling, cinematography and production design. The performance by Taylor-Joy cannot be understated, she is absolutely breathtaking as Beth Harmon. It’s a true underdog story that focuses on the development of its characters and how those characters each impact each other. The only downside is the fact that this is a limited series and its distributor releasing all episodes at once where the show will become a distant memory after its binged. If I were to rate The Queen’s Gambit, I’d rate it a 5 out of 5.
The Queen’s Gambit premiered in 2020 and can be streamed on Netflix. The Queen’s Gambit has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 100%. The Queen’s Gambit was created for TV by Scott Frank and stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Bill Camp, Marielle Heller, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Harry Melling, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd & Moses Ingram.
So, tell me guys, have you seen The Queen’s Gambit and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think.
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