Culture of Pop

The Queen’s Gambit Review

The Queen’s Gambit

The latest binge-worthy release from Netflix, ‘The Queen’s Gambit’, with Anya Taylor-Joy’s captivating performance as Beth Harmon, a female chess prodigy whose life is tortured by her tragedy ridden past and propelled by her genius. 

The fictional chess prodigy

The seven episode mini-series follows the fictional life of Beth Harmon and takes place in the 1950s and ’60s. Orphaned at the age of eight, we follow her journey as she competes to become the world’s best chess player. Based on the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, Beth is taught chess by the janitor at the orphanage; the place where she would grow dependent on tranquilizers which were given to the children as a sedative. Beth quickly got accustomed to playing chess while on tranquilizers and later in life added alcohol and cigarettes to her list of vices. 

Seemingly able to dominate men in a male-dominated endeavor, Beth often finds herself the sole woman among men. A fact that Beth often forgot as she simply loved the game and wanted to play the best. Chess became Beth’s safe haven in a world full of pain, hardship, and unpredictability. When playing the game, Beth finds safety and solace in a chessboard where she controls a world made of 64 squares and 16 chess pieces. 

Anya Taylor-Joy’s stands out

The 24-year-old actor’s encapsulating performance is highlighted by her ability to convincingly play Beth from when she gets adopted at the age of 15 to when competes in Russia at 20 years old. It’s very possible the American-Argentine-British actor will get nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Beth and with upcoming projects like the Mad Max prequel Furiosa and The Northmen with co-stars Nicole Kidman and Willem Dafoe. It’s safe to say the best is yet for come in Anya’s career.

What could have been better in the series

While the mini-series is fantastic in many ways there are two minor annoyances. One of them is the timeline of the series. The story is told chronologically, however, we start episode one with Beth at eight years old and by the last episode, Beth is 20. It’s obvious that with each episode Beth gets older but it is not always immediately clear how old she is or how many years have gone by since the previous episode other than one-liners from characters in the series which can easily be missed if not paying close attention. 

The second issue revolves around the characters surrounding Beth. While we are clearly invested in Beth’s story arc and understand her motivation, the same can not be said for many of the characters Beth meets along the journey. For example, there’s no explanation whatsoever for why her friend at the orphanage, Jolene, randomly showed up into her life seven years after Beth was adopted. Even less believable is that Jolene decided to visit at the exact time when Beth needed money to compete in Russia. How convenient. This is the case for a number of characters at various points in the series and is a notable weak point in what is otherwise an enjoyable series. 

Final takeaway

It’s no mystery why the series is currently at the #1 spot on Netflix’s Top 10 most popular productions right now, as it’s a brilliantly done series about coming of age, addiction, and perseverance. And in case you’re wondering, no, you don’t have to be a grandmaster or even know how to play chess to enjoy the series. 

Grade: B+ 

Watch the trailer here:

 

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