I’ll come clean. I know sod all about chess. I was once taught the ropes by friends during a cold night of our practise silver DofE, as the only thing in the dingy hostel for us to entertain ourselves with was a dusty chess board and some old, chipped pieces. Unfortunately, the rules never stuck, and I’m still bamboozled by the game of chess and the impeccable logic required to master it. Evidently, I’m better off sticking to Monopoly. This Netflix series has reignited my fascination with the game and is a phenomenal ode to the hard work and brain power it requires. Every aspect, from the casting to the cinematography, was beautifully done, capturing emotion, elegance and downright intelligence. It is utterly marvellous.
The Queen’s Gambit follows the story of a child prodigy, Beth Harmon, who was taught to play chess in the basement of an orphanage by the janitor, Mr Shaibel. Trapped in a place where her only friend was one fellow orphan with a cheeky demeanour and foul mouth (ultimately turning out to be thoroughly fabulous and a true friend), Beth sought solace in chess and soon became highly skilled at it, using the daily tranquilizer drugs the children were given in order to visualise a chess board at night and practise the game.
Quickly rising to prominence for her pure talent, Beth begins to play more chess, entering herself into local tournaments. One thing the series intelligently captured was the gender disparity in the world of chess. Amongst a sea of men, Bath Harmon stood out like a sore (but totally beautiful) thumb, making her presence even more revolutionary. An unbeaten player, she soon creates a name for herself and, along with the support from her adoptive mother, begins travelling the country to compete.
The cast is peppered with a few familiar faces – it took me a solid 2 minutes to clock that Harry Beltik is Dudley from Harry Potter all grown up and a record 0.005 seconds to realise recognise Benny Watts is the adorable little boy from Love Actually (poor guy, he’ll never shake off that reputation). There is no denying that Anya Taylor-Joy is the dazzling star of the show, with her deadpan expressions and elegant demeanour making you fall in love with the character. Whoever the costume designer is also needs a raise; the fashion in that show is magical and brilliantly captures the transitions between the decades and reinforcing the stereotypical silhouettes that defined them. Give me a headscarf and a pair of cat eye sunglasses and I’m totally on board. I think I may have been born in the wrong era.
The series also delves into the complexity behind addiction and the roots that can prompt such behaviours. It’s a beautiful mélange of heart-warming moments and sombre undertones and you’ve got what I like to call a visual masterpiece. The chess sequences were also incredibly choreographed; for an uncultured fool like me who thinks a chess board looks more like a dancefloor than a board game, I totally bought every game, and the precision with which the moves were made was mesmerising. Everything about it was well-thought out, well-executed and well-received (a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes can vouch for that).
I was floored by the whole show and would recommend to anyone who wants to sink their teeth into a powerful piece of television to check(mate) it out (see what I did there?). You might not come out of it knowing anything more about how to play chess (me being Exhibit A of this), but I can guarantee it is well worth your time.