The Queen’s Gambit–A Passion for Winning

Queen's Gambit Netflix original

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.

“The Night Of”—A Tale of Darkness

 

"The Night Of" HBO series
“The Night Of” HBO series

In the mini-series “The Night Of,” currently on HBO, the opening scene showcases a mysterious and beautiful young woman who dies and someone goes to trial. Will justice prevail?

“The Night Of” combines elements of the popular podcast “Serial”’ and the  TV series“Oz”. “The Night Of” depicts the horrific conditions endured by Naz Khan on Ryker’s Island, reminding the viewer of “Oz”. And half-truths and damning evidence suggest the Serial podcast about a young Pakistani American teenager, Adnan Syed. Did he or didn’t he—that is the question in both. Both the real-life Adnan and the fictional Naz maintain their innocence, even as more distressing details of the crime surface.

Naz Khan (played by Riz Ahmed from “Nightcrawler”) is a young Pakistani American student charged with the murder of the mysterious young woman from the opening scene. Detective Sergeant Box   (the superb Bill Camp, Tony winner for the Broadway revival of “The Crucible”) charges Naz. A bottom-feeding, grizzled lawyer named Jack Stone (the astonishing John Turturro) is Naz’s legal counsel.

Turturro plays a smarter-than-he-looks lawyer: part-Columbo, part-Monk detective. He’s quirky and wry, his physical awkwardness, and his long trench coat make him as memorable as the more well-known Columbo and Monk. As Jack Stone, he picks at the eczema on his feet with a chopstick as he interviews witnesses and waits to appear in court. Layers of financial and psychological costs are embedded in a justice and penal system Naz and his parents do not know how to navigate. Naz pays the price of not knowing.

We see Naz transform. At first a virginal, studious young man who is naïve and eager, we see his vulnerability preyed upon. We witness Naz feeling cornered, bewildered, and terrified.

“The Night of” features spellbindingly subtle acting with pitch-perfect poignancy and desperation on the part of Riz Ahmed, and steely determination and grit from both John Turturro and Bill Camp, equally matched as dueling seekers of justice.

The connective tissue holding together the evidence both for and against Naz constantly shifts the viewer’s assessment of his guilt or innocence. This dark tale is addictive, deeply moving, compulsive television!

Note: The late James Gandolfini (of “Sopranos” fame) produced “The Night Of” and was intended to be the character Jack Stone.