The Queen's Gambit – Reviewed

Written by Adam Porges
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What a pleasure it is when a superb television series suddenly pops up right out of the blue and particularly when it is as different and original as current Netflix smash The Queens Gambit.

This Article Contains Spoiler Alerts

These days it is typically my Facebook feed where I first get alerts for such things and you can usually tell pretty much right away when the buzz around something is one that immediately marks it down as a ‘must-see’, as was the case with this.

The slightly odd thing about it is that the premise really doesn’t actually sound all that exciting. Try explaining as I have done with people in the office what it’s about.…‘er yes, well it’s this orphaned girl you see and she is really good at chess, um ……’ yet in reality the series actually is that good and has apparently caught the imagination so much that it has led to a huge resurgence in chess set buying from parents who are also rushing to enroll their future Grandmaster daughters (and sons) in lessons and signing them up with local chess clubs.

Based on the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, ‘The Queen's Gambit’ title is in fact the name of one of the most common opening sequences in the game of chess. It stars the amazing looking Anya Taylor-Joy, an actress of Scottish-Argentinian/ Spanish-English descent as Beth Harmon and is wonderfully directed by Marielle Heller, probably like me you will by now already be checking out her ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me’ and ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’ along with last years ‘ A Beautiful Day in The Neighbourhood’.

walter tevis queens gambit 1

We first encounter Beth as a recently orphaned young girl who is now starting her new life out in a Kentucky orphanage, once established there she strikes up an unlikely friendship with the caretaker of the residence Mr Shaibel who reluctantly agrees to teach her how to play the game of chess in the boiler room. Very quickly it becomes evident that young Beth has more than a natural talent for the game and she becomes totally fixated with it, in fact in the meanwhile she has also become so reliant and addicted to the pills administered by the institution that she now lies in bed at night, totally wired, playing out and mesmerising moves in her mind with imaginary giant pieces that she sees on the chequered ceiling of the dormitory.

Eventually, the now-teenage Beth is adopted and her new mother Alma beautifully played by director Heller embark on a delightful relationship. Alma whose husband has decided to walk out on the new family pretty quickly recognises Beth’s potential particularly for securing some needed prize money and the two of them begin to enroll her in competitions locally and then nationally ultimately leading to the World Championships and a showdown with Russian champion Vasily Borgov.

And there we have it, so what is it with The Queen's Gambit that strikes such a chord?

Well for one thing the whole thing looks completely gorgeous. It captures so vividly the world of early 1960s apple-pie USA when a women’s only real worth was as a housewife. Beth and Alma's adventure takes them to gloriously shot hotels, and thanks to their newfound income allow Beth to dress in increasingly stunning dresses of the times fashion, throw in a 60’s soundtrack to die for and it gives the whole thing a super cool feel and look. Meanwhile, there is the extremely clever extended use of the chess matches in the competitions that somehow manage to captivate and remain exciting and compulsive viewing. Serious subjects such as sexism, drink, and drug addiction, psychosis, and mental illness are all hurdles we encounter along the way that is thought-provokingly thrown into the mix without ever quite bringing the mood of the story too far down.

Finally, how nice to have an excellent series on Netflix that doesn’t end unresolved and heading for an inevitable and usually inferior second series. On the contrary, The Queen's Gambit left me, I completely admit, a little bit tearful whilst punching the air and wanting more. Checkmate!

Now, where is that chessboard of mine?




Read 483 times Last modified on Tuesday, 17 November 2020 14:56
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Adam Porges

Adam Porges

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