The Queen’s Gambit (2020) is a period drama miniseries about a female chess prodigy. Set in the 1960s, it follows Beth Harmon from her beginnings as a penniless orphan to international grandmaster. The Queen’s Gambit is based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 book by the same name. It released on Netflix in November 2020. Anna Taylor-Joy (The Witch) stars, Scott Frank (Logan, Godless) and Allan Scott (Castaway) write and direct.
The Queen’s Gambit is a chess opening where white sacrifices their queen’s pawn to gain control of the centre. Beth employs both the gambit and the ‘Sicilian Defense’ throughout the series.
When her mother dies, eight-year-old Beth Harmon of Lexington, Kentucky transfers to the Methuen Home for Christian Girls. There she picks up a habit for tranquillisers and learns to play chess under the rough but loveable janitor Mr Schaibel. As a teenager Beth plays in local tournaments and rapidly rises through the ranks, becoming state champion by the second episode. Despite her success, loneliness and substance abuse beset her.
Beth is a fictional character. There has never been a female world champion and, to this day, 99 of the world’s top 100 players are male. The Queen’s Gambit presents a heroine who challenges the norm and excels in a male-dominated field.
Her career resembles Bobby Fischer, an American child prodigy who unseated the Russian world champion Lassky in 1973, 18th-century master Charles Morphy and modern female champion Judit Polgar.
You don’t need to be a chess fan to enjoy this show. Its strength lies in its ability to build emotional suspense through games on a board and balance triumph with despair. Without seeing every move, we can tell the way a game’s course through body language. Chess theory is still a common topic, however, and will delight anyone with even the slightest interest in the game. In the US, chessboard sales went up 87% and books about chess 603%. Chess.com saw 2.5 million registrations the week after Queen’s Gambit’s release. I was one of them.
The chess community praised the show’s portrayal of the game. Former world champion Gary Kasparov was a consultant.
The Queen’s Gambit makes chess sexy. Beth Harmon is alluring and sympathetic and her fashion-sense enticing Locations like Las Vegas, Mexico City, Paris and Moscow are gorgeously portrayed. Though Beth is central, a supporting cast of characters includes her orphan friend Jolene, and dorky yet good-hearted Harry Beltik and the cocky Benny Watts. Queen’s Gambit popularity spread rapidly through word of mouth; by December, it was Netflix’s most popular show. The New Yorker called it ‘the most satisfying show on television.’ It will likely scoop Emmys in February.
Sources: Bangkok Post, CNN