A little patience is required at the beginning of this Netflix Original series (just added on October 23, 2020) when the hero is still young and an orphan, but oh how that time pays off. All three articles contain spoilers (altho I’m not sure they matter).
I Binge-Watched Netflix’s New #1 Show in Just 2 Days—Here’s Why It’s Must-See TV
email@example.com (PureWow)Mon, October 26, 2020, 6:34 PM EDT·5 mins read
*Warning: Spoilers ahead*
There’s a new show-stopping ingenue on Netflix and unlike recent heroines who were Southern belles or gaslit Brit lasses, this woman’s story is really unexpected: She’s a drug-addicted orphan who becomes a world-renowned chess champion.
Welcome to the world of The Queen’s Gambit, the new 7-episode series that’s captured the number-one spot among Netflix episodic shows. Perhaps you’re thinking, as I did when I heard about the show’s premise, Has it really come to this? Are we so desperate for entertainment that we’re tuning in to a dull narrative full of people playing a slow, boring board game? As the Russian baddies in the show might say: Nyet. Here’s what you need to know about this hot show, which earned Rotten Tomatoes average scores of 100 critical and 98 audience percentage approvals.
1. So What Is ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ About?
We’re introduced to a late 1960s-era young woman as she’s being roused out of a bathtub in a hungover state, who rushes to make her way downstairs in a luxe hotel where, after a phalanx of Beyoncé-level paparazzi snap pictures of her, she sits nervously in front of a chess board across from her opponent, a middle-aged, stern-looking man. What will happen to our boozy protagonist? How did she get here? The first answer takes hours to get to (each episode is a meaty 60 minutes of drama), but viewers are immediately thrust into the the woman’s backstory. Her name is Beth Harmon, and we flash back to her as a nine-year-old standing unharmed next to a car accident that has claimed her mother and destined her to live at an orphanage. There, the poor little girl experiences confusion—some of it caused by little green pills doled out by the school pharmacist—and makes two friends: a fellow resident girl and the school janitor, who she pesters into teaching her to play chess in a dingy basement. Turns out, the girl has an almost spooky talent for the game and develops a secret habit of hoarding the little green pills she’s given to take them before bed; the relaxed state she enters allows her to hallucinate chess pieces flying around an imaginary board on the ceiling. Beth’s skill level and addiction chug right along until the state of Kentucky outlaws giving children addictive tranquilizers, and she is caught breaking into the medical station and gobbling all the pills. Oh, and then falling off a chair in an overdose.
That’s just episode one. Successive installments see our underdog girl grandmaster-in-waiting experience adoption, high school b*tches, being the only female at almost every chess competition, cadged liquor, pills and chess periodicals, PTSD from her early childhood with an unstable mom and eventually travel to New York, Paris and Moscow. Oh, and since this is the ’60s in Middle America, she also experiences about 75 unique wallpapers, most in her own home.
TLDR: Think A Beautiful Mind meets Girl Interrupted meets Rocky.
2. Why Should Anyone Care?
This surprisingly gripping show will keep you hitting “Watch Next Episode” late into the night thanks to two main strengths: the great acting and the girl-versus-world trope. First, the acting of Beth Harmon, from her girlhood played by Isla Johnston to her 20-year-old self played by Anya Taylor-Joy, absolutely captures you as if you’re ensnared in one of the chess openings that she so skillfully dispatches her opponents with. (The series named for a particularly aggressive move that reflects Beth’s aggressive playing style.) Taylor-Joy is transfixing, which is good because you’re watching her for 7 hours of pensive pawn-shuffling; her wide-set eyes call to mind a young Lea Seydoux crossed with a flounder, and her willowy figure shows off the A-line mod shifts of the day. And the supporting players are stronger than they need to be: As Beth’s adoptive mom, Marielle Heller (the director of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) delivers such mannered line readings (“I asked for a pleasant room, and I believe they have given me one”) that you can’t wait to see what she will say or how she will say it. And finally, our girl’s orphanage friend Jolene is a charismatic and compassionate Moses Ingram.
As for the story itself, you’ll find the trials and triumphs of underdog Beth Harmon an absolute tonic. She’s imperfect, immature and uncertain of her place in the world, but she’s got hope for a better life if she keeps doing what she loves—escaping into her passion. When someone is kind to Beth, we cheer; when someone is cruel, we feel her anger and dedication to overcome adversity. Another character says of her in the film that she will have to overcome her anger to achieve happiness, and it’s impossible not to relate to her frustrated desire to make her way in a male-dominated field. And who helps our heroine, with her hard feelings as well as her addiction? The women of the piece—her adoptive mother and her friend Jolene—are the voices she lets guide her when she’s at her lowest. You’ll be rooting for Beth Harmon, even if you don’t have the faintest interest in chess.
The intense new drama that’s taking over Netflix right now
Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon on The Queen’s Gambit Netflix
By Robert Balkovich/Oct. 26, 2020 3:12 pm EDT
Anybody can play chess, but only a scant few people ever rise to the level of grandmaster. Netflix’s freshly released miniseries The Queen’s Gambit follows one young woman’s quest to triumph in a difficult and male-dominated field. But as real-life chess masters like Bobby Fischer have shown us, the price of genius can sometimes be steep. That struggle is the stuff incredible miniseries are made of, and it’s part of the reason why The Queen’s Gambit is currently the number-one series on Netflix’s most-watched list.
The Queen’s Gambit follows the life of Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), an orphan in the late 1950s who enters the world of competitive chess playing after demonstrating an uncanny skill for the game. Beth is a prodigy and soon goes from a downtrodden young woman to an international celebrity as she bests chess champion after chess champion. However, the deeper Beth gets into the game, the more of a toll it takes on her mental health, and she eventually turns to drugs and alcohol to quiet the intensity of her brain — the very thing that launched her to greatness in the first place.
Along with its popularity among Netflix viewers, The Queen’s Gambit is also a critical hit, so if you haven’t watched yet, it might be time to make that opening move. Here’s what you need to know about this intensely fascinating new series.
An adaptation of The Queen’s Gambit was almost 40 years in the making
Marielle Heller and Anya Taylor-Joy on The Queen’s Gambit Netflix/Phil Bray
Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit is the first adaptation of the celebrated novel of the same name by Walter Tevis (no, the series isn’t based on a true story), but it’s far from the first attempt to do so. Several other adaptations have been pursued since Tevis’ novel was first published in 1983, including one by a dearly departed Hollywood legend.
In January 2011, writer Jesse Kornbluth penned a brief post on Book Reporter, in which he detailed his attempts to get a film adaptation of the novel off the ground in the 1980s. But it fizzled after Tevis’ death, which caused an issue with the film rights to the book.
According to a 2008 Independent article, the late actor Heath Ledger was preparing to direct and co-star in an adaptation of the novel at the time of his death. His version would have been written by Allan Scott, the screenwriter of films like The Witches (funnily enough, Scott actually co-created Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, alongside Logan co-writer Scott Frank). Ellen Page, fresh off her Oscar-nominated breakthrough performance in Juno at the time, was reportedly meant to star in the version of The Queen’s Gambit that Ledger would have directed and appeared in.
The chess scenes in The Queen’s Gambit were expertly choreographed
One of the intense chess scenes from The Queen’s Gambit Netflix/Phil Bray
Although chess is certainly an important part of The Queen’s Gambit, like many other great pieces of art about someone who rises to the top of their field, it’s not necessarily a series about the game of chess itself. But that doesn’t mean series co-creator, writer, and director Scott Frank didn’t go to great lengths to make sure they got the details of the game just right.
Not only did the series’ creatives employ chess masters such as Bruce Pandolfini and Garry Kasparov to consult on the intricate details of the game, but they also choreographed the games’ viewers. As Frank told Entertainment Weekly, “They’re always real moves and it’s always very accurate … You can freeze frame anything, and it’s a real chess setup.”
One of the keys to successfully pulling off the sometimes break-neck chess matches was Taylor-Joy’s commitment to the part. In addition to revealing to Entertainment Weekly that she memorized her chess choreography just before shooting to keep from “going insane,” the actress also told Decider that her own competitive spirit helped her tap into those intense matchups: “The first time I played chess prior to this show, I was amazed at how much … somebody challenging my intellect on this board bothered me deeply. I was like, ‘Oh, okay. I’m definitely going to be able to play this character. I’m down. This is going to be fine.'”
Critics are raving about Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance in The Queen’s Gambit
Anya Taylor-Joy won universal praise for The Queen’s Gambit Netflix
Reviews for The Queen’s Gambit have been universally strong, and the series is currently sitting pretty with a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While many critics wrote highly of the entire production, some did take issue with certain aspects, such as the pacing. However, something just about everyone was in agreement about was Taylor-Joy’s masterful performance as Beth Harmon.
In a positive — but critical — review for CNN, Brian Lowry said, “Taylor-Joy’s magnetic presence is enough reason to watch this handsome Netflix limited series, even if the seven-part production gets dragged out about three episodes too long.”
Caroline Framke of Variety was similarly taken by the star’s screen presence, writing, “Anya Taylor-Joy, a lead actor so magnetic that when she stares down the camera lens, her flinty glare threatens to cut right through it.”
Allison Shoemaker was even more effusive in her praise. Writing for RogerEbert.com, she said, “Taylor-Joy gives the kind of performance that only becomes more riveting the longer you sit with it. It’s a turn of both intoxicating glamour and precious little vanity, internal without ever being closed-off, heartbreakingly vulnerable and sharply funny, often at once.”
Whether you’re tuning in for the expertly choreographed chess matches, or to check out Taylor-Joy’s acting chops before she takes over the role of Furiosa in the Mad Max prequel movie, you can stream The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix now.
Another article about the ending immediately after this one.