The Queen’s Gambit: A Good Gamble For Your Time

By Natasha Kangrga

In a recent interview with Slate’s Nitish Pahwa, Russian chess grandmaster and former World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov explained,“ You have to guarantee that the games that are being played… look real. There will be a bunch of chess players watching who say, ‘That’s nonsense.’” But The Queen’s Gambit is not nonsense. In fact, it is one of the most relevant chess series out there. 

The Queen’s Gambit is a limited, seven-part miniseries on Netflix, based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel of the same title. It has spent the last 30 days since its Netflix debut on the Daily Top 10, being the most popular limited series to screen on the platform. 

The story revolves around Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), who grows up in a Christian orphanage. She finds herself in the basement one day and observes the janitor, Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), playing a game of chess by himself. She quickly becomes fascinated by it. 

Over the course of a couple of weeks, the two play chess together in the basement, secretly, as Beth begins to learn the game. 

The story then skips to Beth at age 15. She is still in the orphanage and still plays chess. One special day, a childless couple visit the orphanage and choose to adopt her. She packs up her old life and moves into a home with her new parents. 

In this new town, Beth learns about an upcoming chess tournament and decides to take part. It is mostly male-dominated, but that doesn’t stop her. 

Beth eventually advances in her chess career and begins to do very well for herself, except she has a problem: she struggles with excessive drinking and a dependence on the “tranquilizer” pills that she has taken since her days in the orphanage. 

The Queen’s Gambit is a very relevant and addictive show. At first, I underestimated its effectiveness, as chess is not something I’m into, but after the first episode, I was hooked. Not only is the show interesting, it also provides a strong message to its audience. 

This show is set in the 60s, so as expected, when a girl has the confidence to walk into a male-dominated sport, she is gravely underestimated. This happened to Beth at first, when most of the men didn’t take her seriously and it seemed as if they thought they could easily beat her. This is what makes The Queen’s Gambit an empowering feminist tale. A young girl proving that her gender does not determine her skill. 

Something else I love about this series is the cinematography – it is very intriguing. The lighting, for example, creates a gloomy atmosphere. At first, it seems like a filter is used to create a world that reflects Beth’s feelings. Though as her life gradually improves, such as when she got adopted, the lighting brightens.

The angles from which the show is filmed are, again, well done. They allow us to observe her facial expressions at important moments during the show and pay close attention to the way she handles a situation, such as a chess game. 

Another amazing feature is the soundtrack. First of all, we have the opportunity to listen to some beautiful orchestral music. This type of music is not only lovely to hear, but helps make certain scenes more captivating. The dramatic changes in volume trigger feelings such as  anxiousness, curiosity, happiness, and sadness. The scenes take you on an emotional roller coaster. 

As well, because the show is set in the 60’s, you also hear various artists such as Kim Weston, Marvin Gaye, Donovan, and Peggy Lee, and groups such as The Vogues, Harman’s Hermits, and The Monkees. 

Finally, Anya Taylor-Joy did an impeccable job in her role as Beth Harmon. She is a brilliant actor and she makes Beth seem like a real person, not just a character. Everytime Beth is caught in a trap – meaning she is waiting for her opponent to make the next move or knowing she might lose – I really felt the stress. The way Taylor-Joy portrays Beth’s habits, such as her hand behind her neck, implying that she is nervous, or the crossed fingers underneath her chin, implying she is calm, allows you to know if Beth is going to do well in her match or not. 

The Queen’s Gambit is a series geared towards all audiences, but if you are into chess, you might find it even more entertaining. Despite a small plot-hole in the development of one of Beth’s friendships and some pacing issues in a couple of episodes, the show, overall, has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. I believe this series deserves a solid 4/5