The Queen’s Gambit

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Period drama

Availability: Netflix 

Plot:  After a family tragedy the main character, orphaned six year old Beth Harmon, is sent to the Methuen Home for Girls in Kentucky. Here she learns to play chess, and we gain insight into her extraordinary mental and imaginative powers. Then we follow her as she confronts the challenges of growing up and wanting to be a chess grand master.

Cast and screenplay: Isla Johnston is excellent playing Beth as a child in the first episode, and then Anya Taylor-Joy portrays her as a teenager and young adult in the rest of the series. Taylor-Joy is perfect for the role. Her portrayal is outstanding as we watch Beth grapple with the ways of the world after her closeted orphanage experience. Bill Camp plays Mr Shaibel, the orphanage janitor who teaches her to play chess in the basement. I am ashamed to say, I was on tenterhooks worrying that this little girl would be exposed to adverse predatory behaviour, but I needn’t have worried. The relationship between Mr Shaibel and Beth provide some of the most poignant moments in the film. Beth’s adoptive mother Alma is played wonderfully by Marielle Heller. She manages wisdom and fragility in equal measure, and she and Beth develop a bond fuelled by love, codependency (mostly on alcohol and drugs) and tournament winnings.  

Filming and setting: The cinematography is superb in this film. It brilliantly captures the colours, style and interior design of the 1950s/60s, and as such it is a visual treat. We get to see stunning interiors, from American home design, to luxurious hotels, to the magnificent scenes of Beth’s tournament venues. And we see fashion – particularly women’s fashion – as Beth and Alma showcase Hollywood styles that are timeless and often exceptionally beautiful. Visually it’s authentic and a delight to watch. The music is terrific too. 

Personal Comments:  There is no question – The Queen’s Gambit is thoroughly enjoyable and it’s not surprising that the Netflix series has caused a sensation across the globe. While it’s a bit long in places it keeps us right in there with Beth and her incredible adventures toward fame and fortune. But there is something missing in its storytelling. Beth completely transcends any of the sexist realities that confronted women of the time. While she is seen as an oddity in what is clearly a man’s world of chess, other than her own demons there are no barriers standing in her way. This creates a somewhat fanciful and wondrous element to her experiences. Ultimately this flaw challenges the perfection of the series. On the other hand, perhaps it is a fairy story the world needs in these troubled times.

8 Replies to “The Queen’s Gambit”

  1. Hi Marie,
    lots of friends have loved this and your review cements it on top of my ‘next to watch’ list. Just have to finish Secret City!

  2. (Your reviews are going straight into my in-box).
    What struck me me most about women’s clothing during that era was the elegance. What’s more, we were provided with the skills to sew everything ourselves.

  3. Thank you Marie for a great review.
    I also thought it was five stars even if there were some unresolved aspects of her life at the end which left me feeling a bit dissatisfied.

    Visually it was stunning! The sixties settings, the clothes, the cars…all very beautiful.
    The acting too was brilliant, it seemed that the actors were just perfect for their roles. (Great acting does feel like acting?)

    Also it was so good to see a film about a strong woman which wasn’t violent or about her sexuality….but rather about her exceptional talent.
    Diane and I have just bought a very Sixties house so it was great to feast on all the wonderful interiors…and, of course, the film’s great music!

  4. I agree with your analysis of the “flaw”, Marie – well described! I recently listened to a German podcast describing this fun fact about the series: Filiz Osmanodja (born 1996), a German chess player who holds the 2019 title of Woman Grandmaster (WGM, 2019) was the “chess double” in the series – it is her hands that you see in the series, not those of the actress(es). She memorised up to 18 games to be part of the scenes in which Beth plays simultaneously against multiple other players. In the interview, Osmanodja confirmed that the routines of a world class player were characterised well in the series. She also described that the presence of women in chess has improved since but that 85% of chess players are male still – no wonder, she hopes that the series might change this a bit. 🙂

    1. Thanks Bianca – that’s very interesting. Although I don’t play chess, I understand that people who know the game consider that they got this spot-on in the series. They have clearly used experts to make sure they get it right – another indicator of how seriously they take the importance of authenticity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *