“Definitely a must-watch…”

The Queen’s Gambit is a coming-of-age period drama miniseries starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Harry Melling, and Bill Camp. This Walter Tevis adaptation is created by Allan Scott and Scott Frank, and It was released on Netflix in October 2020. It rapidly gained immense viewership and popularity.

The Queen’s Gambit is not merely a rags-to-riches fantasy, but a story of a female prodigy who excels in the game of chess from an early age. The miniseries focuses on the life events of Elizabeth (Beth) Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy). She loses her mother in a car accident caused by an attempt to end her life. Beth is then transferred to an orphanage. She meets the janitor, Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), in the basement and readily develops an interest in chess. Beth is shown to have a relatively unusual childhood, with a fanatic yet extremely adroit mother.

The audience expects Beth to have a terrible life at the orphanage, dealing with bullies and strict administration. Curiously, The Queen’s Gambit focuses on her journey from a young prodigy to an expert at chess. She is not shown to be like other girls who have an interest in movies and ballads. Her unique characteristics distinguish her from other girls of her age.

Beth befriends an African American girl named Jolene (Moses Ingram), who plays a significant role in her life choices, and gradually creates a world of her own where she polishes her chess playing skills with Mr. Shaibel’s help out amongst all. In the brief flashbacks, the audience learns about her relationship with her mother and father’s existence.

Initially, the audience is compelled to believe that Beth Harmon is the Cinderella of this series, just that this Cinderella does not need a prince charming this time. However, as the story moves forward, the audience is introduced to obsession, trauma, addiction, relationships, and most significantly, the human mind’s complexity.

Since Beth is a chess expert, we expect her to win at all stages. Yet, the screenplay and execution of each scene compel the audience to forget about the fast-forward button. It is not merely a success story, but a spotlight on Beth’s particular journey and the price she must pay along the ride. Some moments make you feel sad and agitated at the same time.

Beth’s character is complex, to say the least, which distinguishes her from other notable female characters. From a feminist point of view, Beth is definitely the woman who owns her actions and does not allow herself to settle for less. Despite being surrounded by people who believe girls are only meant for domesticity, Beth breaks norms and makes a name for herself in the male-dominated chess world. From the very beginning, her confidence and attitude charm the audience and makes them root for her in each scene.

The Queen’s Gambit is not a forgettable series; its limited number of episodes makes it possible for the viewers to binge-watch without getting bored. It will be remembered for years, especially by chess lovers.

However, its plot is unrealistic. For example, Beth is shown to have a complex personality. She is knowledgeable and an expert at whatever she does. Such a plotline can annoy a viewer because one can’t be so flawless. The series lays a mindset that to achieve success, you have to be perfect at everything; you are doomed if you do not have any flawless talent. Beth’s flawlessness at chess and academic activities puts you in a dilemma that only such people can excel in life.

Nevertheless, the director and writer have not tried to portray Beth Harmon as a complete individual anyway. She is flawed, and that is possibly the best thing about her. The moments she annoys the audience with her decisions are highlights of the show, making her character slightly close to reality. Thankfully, Beth is not shown as an incredibly friendly and humble person. She is self-centered and does care about her own self.

The most intriguing part about Elizabeth Harmon, which is portrayed beautifully by Anya, is her character’s complexity. One cannot assert what exactly she feels, especially for the people around her. She is friends with Jolene and gets along with her, but we see that she never contacted her after leaving the orphanage. The audience almost settles with the verdict that Beth is not driven by emotions until they experience some incidents in her life that reflect a different side of her. It is not just Beth herself but also her adopted mother, who has an equally complex character. We cannot decide what kind of relationship they share, whether it’s love, mutual admiration, or merely the need to fulfill the void in each other’s life out of necessity.

Despite some written glitches in the screenplay, particularly in characterization that leaves us bemused in multiple scenes, The Queen’s Gambit has some of the finest acting seen in the past few years. Not just Anya herself, but the supporting cast amazes us with their subtle expressions and assertive dialogue delivery. The show is edited finely, given perfect music to soothe oneself. The director and cameramen have given their best to this project and paid great attention to each scene. The way they have captured Beth’s expressions during chess tournaments and paused the camera at her the oblivion in her eyes triggers the viewer to watch more. It is undoubtedly a project made successful with collective effort, from designers to makeup artists. They all seem to have paid attention to minute details and made The Queen’s Gambit a huge success.

It is definitely a must-watch. However, if you have not played chess, it can be slightly confusing, but that does not take away the joy of experiencing Beth’s successful journey.  There is a lot to learn from the series, but chess is not one of them because it certainly does not provide chess lessons!

However, it subtly reflects the ordeal of relationships that are not bound by bloodline. There are moments that put the viewers in a trance of contemplation. One might not understand the game of chess, but it engages viewers like any other game. You will think about life, people, and most importantly, what consumes your soul in the process of reaching heights.

I will give this series 4 stars. Maybe if I had known more about chess, it would have been more interesting to understand the depths of a few scenes. Nevertheless, that does not make this series less interesting. It is a thrilling and exciting watch that will push you to praise the entire The Queen’s Gambit team’s efforts.

The Queen’s Gambit
streaming on Netflix (seven episodes)