When I decided to binge watch ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ one Friday night, I wasn’t expecting much. Not knowing how to play chess, nor having a particular interest in it, I went in with the preconception that this show wouldn’t be for me. I’ve never been happier to be wrong, for this show is one of the best things I’ve watched this year.
‘The Queen’s Gambit’ is based on the successful, but not well-known, novel of the same name by Walter Tevis. It tells the story of Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young woman who has an incredible talent for chess. It opens with a charming, almost-Dickensian chapter as young Beth is orphaned, and follows her rise from playing the game in the basement of her orphanage, to the heights of international prestige.
What made this show such a success, I believe, is the incredible portrayal of the protagonist by Taylor-Joy. She takes absolute command of the screen at all times. Beth is a magnetic heroine, and you can’t help but root for her as she crushes all her opponents, but never once does she become conceited or unlikable; she remains wonderfully imperfect and wholly relatable. Taylor-Joy’s performance is backed up by a great supporting cast, including janitor Mr Shaibel, who introduces Beth to the game that will change her life, her alcoholic, adoptive mother who tries her best, and the numerous competitors for Beth’s affections, all of whom are great characters in their own right.
The show also carries with it some incredible production design and costuming, giving the show a feel that’s reminiscent of another Netflix period drama, ‘The Crown’. More than illuminating the stylish world of the 1960s though, the clothing and make-up reveal Beth’s inner world and mindset, following her highs and lows. It’s thoughtful and pleasing.
‘The Queen’s Gambit’ has been an unexpected success story. It has created interest in a centuries-old game for a new generation, and is absolutely worth a watch. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find a new love for chess.