I tried playing chess with my father many years ago, but I was so bad at remembering what pieces moved where, that my dad, in frustration, threw the chess set away, so when I heard about The Queen’s Gambit, I was hesitant to watch. Did the Netflix original series change my mind about the game?
The Queen’s Gambit is Scott Frank’s and Allan Scott’s adaptation of the Walter Tevis novel about loss, addiction, obsession, and chess. It stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon, an orphan who survives her mother’s successful suicide by car. Beth’s mother had serious mental problems, and from the many flashbacks we realize that five-year-old Beth (Annabeth Kelly) was already traumatized by the time her mother tried to kill them both by plowing into an oncoming truck. Miraculously, Beth was not harmed at all, and was immediately sent to the Methuen Home for Girls.
The fictional story takes place during the early 50’s through the late 60’s. The girls at the school are given daily tranquilizers to keep them manageable. Beth goes through the daily routines of the school in a pill popping daze, but she is fortunate to become friends with Jolene (Moses Ingram) an older child who takes Beth under her wing and warns her not to get addicted to the pills. One day, Beth (Isla Johnston), who is now all of eight-years-old goes into the basement to clean out the chalkboard erasers, and is immediately mesmerized by the custodian, Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), who is practicing his chess moves. From that moment on, Beth is hooked on chess and pesters the stern custodian to teach her how to play.
Beth is not only smart at math, but she is also a child prodigy who uses the tranquilizers to help her focus on the chess moves. She can play an entire game in her head, and by the time teenage she (Anya Taylor-Joy) is adopted by Alma Wheatley (Marielle Heller), she is recognized as a chess genius. Beth has a hard time opening up to people, plus the clothes that her adoptive mom picked out for her makes Beth an easy target for bullies, but the story really picks up speed as Beth and the viewers learn about two powerful chess openings: The Sicilian, and the Queen’s Gambit.
It isn’t long before Beth enrolls in chess tournaments. Unfortunately, with each success, Beth becomes more addicted to pills and alcohol. Beth depends on her friends Harry Beltik (Harry Melling), Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) to help her hone her already impressive skills to finally play against the Russian Chess Master, Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorocinski).
I never expected a series about chess to be a thrilling, edge of your seat story, but it was, and the credit goes to actress Anya Taylor-Joy. Her character, Beth, may be a fragile and damaged young woman when it comes to dealing with people, but Anya’s Beth becomes a chessboard Ninja who keeps her opponents, and we viewers, hypnotized by the spectacular chess scenes. Beth teaches us that in life as in chess, it’s all about making the right moves.
I was so impressed with the series that I’ve ordered Walter Tevis’s book, and I am determined to learn this game, but if any of you are proficient in chess, you may want to check out this Super mega bundle as a Holiday gift for yourself.