The Queen’s Gambit is a captivating series with incredible settings, convincing characters, and a riveting plot, highlighted by Anya Taylor Joy’s stellar performance.
Netflix’s new limited series The Queen’s Gambit has shaken the world by storm. The series is currently Netflix’s most-watched scripted miniseries and made the top 10 most-watched Netflix content in 92 countries and was number 1 in 63 countries. Interestingly, since The Queen’s Gambit premiered, unit sales of chess have jumped 87%! There has also been a 603% rise in chess book sales. The Queen’s Gambit has clearly become a cultural phenomenon, but why has it attracted so many audiences? What is so good about it?
The Queen’s Gambit is based on a 1983 novel of the same name by acclaimed author Walter Tevis. Set in the 1950s, the series depicts a coming-of-age story that follows chess prodigy Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy). Beth lives in a Kentucky orphanage, where she learns chess from Mr. Shabel (Bill Camp), the orphanage custodian who notices her gifts. At age fifteen, Beth is adopted by Alma Wheatley (Marielle Heller), a lonely housewife who eventually becomes supportive of Beth’s pursuits to become a Chess grandmaster. The series then follows Beth’s journey in international chess tournaments to become the next world chess champion. Through this journey, she befriends and makes enemies with several chess players, including Harry Beltik (Harry Melling) and Benny Wats (Thomas Brodie-Sangster).
The Queen’s Gambit is a compelling period drama. The 1950s atmosphere was wonderfully done. The costume and production designs were also stellar, bringing the period to life. Minute details like Beth’s makeup and the soundtrack with songs from The Monkees and The Kinks also help set the mood. The series did a fantastic job recreating the Cold War tensions, building suspense and stress to sequences and leaving audiences on the edge of their seats. I was surprised to see how dramatic and thrilling a chess game could become. One of the most riveting scenes, for example, is Beth’s first game with the Soviet World Chess champion Vasily Borgov (Marcin Grzegorz Dorociński).
Anya Taylor Joy’s performance is the highlight of the show. At its core, The Queen’s Gambit is a captivating character study of Beth. Beth’s battle with addiction and struggles with the past make the show compelling and often heartbreaking. Joy truly brings Beth, a mature character who puts immense pressure on herself but occasionally shows a naive side, to life. For Beth, Chess is not just a gifted ability but also a form of escapism. She comes from a chaotic and disorderly past, and playing chess grants her order and control. She copes with the disorder by playing a game that is logical and predictable.
Despite having many shining moments, the series is not perfect. It has a slow start. Its first episode was rather dry, which may turn some new audiences away. Furthermore, I, like many others, found the ending unsatisfying. To me, many of Beth’s struggles were left unresolved and forgotten about in the finale. The ending wrapped up in a cliche and “feel good” manner, which made me happy but also yearning for a more thoughtful and innovative conclusion.
Besides these minor concerns, The Queen’s Gambit is still a must-watch. Its incredible settings, convincing characters, and riveting plot have gravitated global audiences, and I’m sure it will gravitate you as well. Give this miniseries a watch and maybe buy a chess set along the way!