The Queen’s Gambit follows the trials and tribulations of Beth Harmon (Isla Johnston/Annabeth Kelly/Anya Taylor-Joy) as she makes a bid to become the greatest chess player in the world.
I think if you’d told me that I was going to get really into a show about Chess I probably wouldn’t have believed you. My mum played chess and taught both me and my brother but I never had much enthusiasm for the game. My brain doesn’t really have that kind of strategic focus and there was far too much sitting still and keeping quiet. I am not the only one who felt like this, which is probably why it took producer, Allan Scott, 30 years to get anyone to agree to make it but thank goodness he did.
There are several reasons that Queen’s Gambit is so engaging. One of those is definitely the fact that Beth is such an interesting character. She’s enigmatic and often appears emotionless but she has a real vulnerability under her tough exterior and often struggles with managing her anger. Her volatile childhood both before and after the loss of her birth mother is slowly revealed throughout the story, which adds to an understanding of why Beth is so self-destructive alongside her success. Taylor-Joy completely captures her and it’s a career defining performance that is likely to catapult her career to a new level.
I also really enjoyed the look into the world of chess, which is something I have never really thought of before. There are endless strategies and approaches that are studied and considered. Players examine each other’s games and performance with the same kind of interest as you’d see from athletes or sports teams. The players range from geeky guys like Harry Beltik (Harry Meltik) to the maverick, leather coat wearing, knife carrying, Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster). Beth is new to this world so her introduction is also ours and it’s fun to dive in.
There’s a gender politics angle too. The series is set in the 50’s and 60’s and initially Beth is completely dismissed by male players. They cannot imagine she could ever beat them and it’s a joy to watch her trounce those who have underestimated her. This is reinforced in Beth’s sexual awakening, which leads to several dalliances with her competitors.
Finally there’s the very “Cold War” competition with the Russian players, particularly Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorociński) who appears as a kind of “big bad” and is Beth’s toughest competition. He is a completely different player to her and the adaptation both must do to their game to try and counter each other is a big focus of Beth’s journey.
The games themselves are shot in a way that make them really tense to watch, even if you don’t really know anything about chess and even that said, the show teaches you enough to kind of follow anyway.
The only thing I wasn’t completely sold on was Beth’s relationship with Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd). Fortune-Lloyd gives a great performance and their chemistry was electric, it just felt a little under-cooked for just how hung up Beth is on him. Other than that, this is a much watch and very highly recommended!