I would like to preface this review by saying that not once in my life have I ever played, or had any interest in learning how to play, chess. I always imagined it as a more difficult game of checkers, and just assumed it would not be my cup of tea. After watching The Queen’s Gambit however, this has absolutely changed.
The Queen’s Gambit is a new limited series on Netflix based on Walter Tevis’ novel of the same name. It follows the rise of Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), a chess prodigy who struggles with addiction after being introduced to tranquilizers as a 9-year-old orphan. While at the orphanage, she is introduced to the game of chess by the janitor, who is played by Bill Camp. Harmon discovers that with the help of tranquilizers, she can understand the game more clearly. She even spends nights playing the game alone; imagining a chess board on the ceiling over her bed. Beth becomes not only addicted to the game, but to the pills as well. With significant practice and a handful of tranquilizers, it is soon realized that her skill in the game can take her far beyond the confines of the orphanage – and it does! She is soon invited to play against an entire Chess Club team, where she dominates with ease.
Years later, Beth is adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Wheatley, who are both handling their unhappy marriage in a poor manner. Allston Wheatley is absent, continuously spending weeks away on “business trips”, while Alma Wheatley spends her days drowning her sorrows in alcohol. Beth seeks refuge by entering (and winning) local chess tournaments. Her new Mom becomes extremely supportive of this once she finds out how much money Beth can make if she wins – which she always does. Alma “supports” her daughter’s love of chess by pulling her out of school and taking her to tournaments all around the world. Beth very quickly becomes a “Somebody” in the chess world.
As she works her way up the ranks, the audience is introduced to her many primarily male opponents. While the majority of these players have distaste for Beth at the beginning (after being defeated by her, of course), they become enthralled by her talent. They support her journey to the top, and even help her train to take on the Soviets, who are recognized as the best players in the world.
What I loved about this series is that I was immediately sucked in. From the moment I was introduced to Beth Harmon I was itching to know more about her character and her struggle. I wanted to see her annihilate her male competitors, and almost wished for her to hit rock bottom with her addiction, just to see how she could succeed with a clear mind. By the end of the last episode, I was in tears wishing she wasn’t a fictional person so I could see how her life ended up. Like Beth with the tranquilizers – I was hooked! And if the character development doesn’t draw you in, the beautiful cinematography certainly will. The editing of each chess game was like watching a graceful ballet. I was in absolute awe.
The Queen’s Gambit was somehow able to make one of the most elegant and docile games the most exciting and riveting to watch. Every match Beth played sucked me in, and had me on the edge of my seat. I can confidently say that I did not expect to ever use the word “thrilling” to describe chess, but it is well deserved here. Beth’s journey to success was Rocky-level inspiring and absolutely thrilling from beginning to end!
If anyone with knowledge of chess and a large amount of patience is looking for their Beth Harmon, you know who to call!
— Madison P.
Note: copies of The Queen’s Gambit will be coming soon to WPL in book, eBook and eAudiobook formats