WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
The Queen's Gambit is the story of an orphaned chess prodigy from ages eight to twenty-two and her journey to become a grandmaster of chess while fighting her own demons of addiction.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Chess is a cerebral game. It mainly involves opponents staring at the board, making notes and making calculated moves – and all the reasoning comes from deductions they have made in their mind. It's easy to see why many viewers might be put off by a seven-part series about chess. I mean, chess isn't the most exciting sport to watch live, let alone on TV. But The Queen's Gambit subverts everything you think you know about the game and takes you on a thrilling ride.
More like a seven-part movie than a series, every episode is written and directed by Scott Frank (Godless), and it feels as if it exists as one unit. The first episode begins with the story of Beth Harmon, a girl who was orphaned after her mother died in a horrific accident. She is sent to live at an orphanage, where she meets the custodian Mr Shaibel. Mr Shaibel teaches Beth how to play chess and soon realises she has a knack for the game. Also at the orphanage, Beth is introduced to tranquillisers as the orphans are fed the medication to keep them obedient. She gets addicted to the pills and starts to form a link between the medication and her talent at chess.
This is ultimately a coming-of-age story and as Beth grows, gets adopted, enters high school and deals with average young people things, like crushes and bullies, her obsession with chess and her addiction to pills (and eventually alcohol) gets worse. It's the story of geniuses and their demons, of talent vs addiction. And it does it so well; we understand the character of Beth, we sympathise with her and we root for her.
A lot of this can be attributed to Anya Taylor-Joy's performance as Beth. The writing is good, but Taylor-Joy takes what is on the page and brings it to life delicately and deliberately.
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