The Queen’s Gambit is a fictional story based upon the 1983 Walter Tevis novel by the same name. A Netflix original series released October 30 of this year, the drama opens with a scene of an eight-year old girl, Beth Harmon (newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy), soon to become an orphan residing at a bleak orphanage, Methuen, under a severe headmistress. It is the mid-1950s and there are few options for an orphan, especially a little girl.
Struggling with loneliness, adoption and being a social misfit, Beth finds solace through learning chess from the janitor (Bill Camp) in the Methuen School’s basement. As she begins to earn begrudging recognition as a chess prodigy, emotional issues with drug and alcohol dependency compete with her drive to win at all costs. She is adopted as a teenager into a dysfunctional family. Her adoptive mother is both a support and an enabler in her addictions. If Beth Harmon doesn’t keep on winning, she will lose her soul in her aggressive fight for deliverance from her past.
Watching The Queen’s Gambit the viewer may feel as if chess is an endgame for survival. Other chess movies have also made the game a metaphor for redemption and transformation. (Think In Search of Bobby Fischer and Queen of Katwe reviewed here on November 13, 2018).
Although the authenticity of the chess tournaments may be surprisingly riveting to some, for others they may slow down the pacing. Nevertheless, Beth’s inner life and that of her friends and opponents still create a compelling story. Watching Beth struggle on her journey to becoming independent and proud, –breaking barriers to being the first female international chess grandmaster– is mirrored in each chess move. You have to cheer for this underdog. And some of the creativity in photographing the chess pieces truly is brilliant (including imagining a strategic slide of the queen’s pawn on the room’s ceiling).
Highly original and surprisingly entertaining, this mini-series is a daring move indeed!
Availability: Netflix streaming.