Based on the novel by Walter Tevis, the Netflix limited series drama The Queen’s Gambit is a coming-of-age story that explores the true cost of genius. Abandoned and entrusted to a Kentucky orphanage in the late 1950s, a young Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) discovers an astonishing talent for chess while developing an addiction to tranquilizers provided by the state as a sedative for the children. Haunted by her personal demons and fueled by a cocktail of narcotics and obsession, Beth transforms into an impressively skilled and glamorous outcast while determined to conquer the traditional boundaries established in the male-dominated world of competitive chess.
Rarely does a television program come along that manages to absolutely enthrall me and make me want to watch the entire thing in one or two sittings. And although I didn’t watch The Queen’s Gambit that quickly, I definitely become fascinated and hooked on this excellent drama-thriller that tells a magnificent story of a young chess prodigy who strives to become the best in the world, all while dealing with personal demons and substance abuse.
There is simply no way this story could have been told as a movie. Getting to spend seven hours with Beth Harmon and getting to take a look inside her head and see her life story was equal parts beautiful and riveting. This was a show that I wasn’t sure I was going to like for one reason – I don’t play chess and I have no idea how the game even works.
When I heard that the show was about chess, I felt apprehensive about it. I only ended up checking it out because it stars Anya Taylor-Joy, who is one of my all-time favorite actresses. And I am extremely glad that I did end up watching it, because this is now one of my favorite shows in years. It is told with immense expertise and a level of intensity rarely seen these days.
And even if you don’t play chess and have no idea how it works, like me, don’t worry. Although The Queen’s Gambit does revolve around chess, you don’t need to know a single thing about the game in order to enjoy this miniseries. Its strengths lie within its characters, their development, the quiet intensity in the chess matches, and the story of how one woman rises to the top.
Anya Taylor-Joy is simply masterful in the role of Beth Harmon. She is a quiet and reserved girl which often fools people around her because they think she doesn’t have what it takes to beat them in chess. But as soon as she enters the room and begins the game, her opponents quickly realize that they got more than they bargained for. Harmon is a sweet and lovable girl and spends a lot of time with her adoptive mother Alma Wheatley (Marielle Heller) and loves to do the little things in life.
But as soon as she starts to learn the game of chess, it starts to take over her entire life. Now, instead of going out with her mother and spending time, she stays in her room for hours reading chess books to help give her ideas and strategies for her next match. Simply put, Beth Harmon is one of the most fascinating characters on television in the last ten years. If Taylor-Joy does not win dozens of awards for her performance here, then it would be a massive shame.
Something you’ll notice right away as soon as you start binging The Queen’s Gambit is the color palette and cinematography. Everything looks absolutely immaculate and outstandingly beautiful. The entire show is brimming with life, color, and vibrancy in virtually every scene. I genuinely cannot recall a single shot that looked dull or lifeless. Steven Meizler’s cinematography makes every shot bloom.
All of the show’s beauty is further boosted by its marvelous score composed by Carlos Rafael Rivera. There are moments where the score can be quiet and beautiful, and others where it can portray anger, fear, and desperation. It is one of the most magnificent scores in any art form in a long time.
Simply put, The Queen’s Gambit is an absolute revelation and is one of the best television shows in several years. Don’t be surprised if you see this show at a ton of awards ceremonies in the near future. Not only is this show fascinating, but it also managed to make the sales of chess boards go up significantly. So that’s certainly something.
Overall Grade: A+
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Bill Camp, Moses Ingram, Isla Johnston, Christiane Seidel, Rebecca Root, Chloe Pirrie, Akemnji Ndifornyen, Marielle Heller, Harry Melling, Patrick Kennedy, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Marcin Dorociński