Title: The Queen’s Gambit
MPAA Rating: TV-MA
Director: Scott Frank
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Chloe Pirrie, Bill Camp
Runtime: 6 hr 33 mins
What It Is: Beth Harmon is a young orphan who lost her mother in a suicidal car accident and was abandoned by her father. When adjusting to her new life in an orphanage, Beth finds herself intrigued by a quiet chess-playing custodian in the basement. Determined to express her intelligence in some fashion, young Beth convinces him to teach her how to play the game, quickly becoming one of the most notable players in her state. As she grows up and her family finds her, Beth struggles with her competitive as well as addictive nature as the stakes for winning become more and more challenging, eventually bringing her to the top where she faces the world’s greatest players in this mid-20th-century-set coming of age mini-series.
What We Think: I love Anya Taylor-Joy in everything, and so do you. While not all the projects she’s involved with are winners, it’s a sure statement to make that she elevates everything she’s in. As our meticulous, whip-smart, and realistically flawed lead, she graces the screen with utmost humanity, biting delivery, and enough subtly and emotional give to lend audiences the purest reason to keep watching from one episode to the next: Beth Harmon is an amazing character and Anya brought that to life.
When delving cold into the show I found the writing so detailed and in-depth considering the wants, needs, and quirks of all the characters, I was convinced this was based on a real chess player named Beth Harmon and her real struggle with being the best chess player in the world. In reality, the story is based on the fictional 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, which says a lot about the level of realism brought to the table. Every episode, every character, every set piece is treated with so much care for the sake of a convincing time period and vivacity, it really does feel like you’re watching history being told rather than it being made. The cast in its entirety, Miss Taylor-Joy aside, is absolutely fantastic–not a dull performance or off-line insight, which is also to say much of the writing is completely on point, maintaining the grounded perspective we have of the characters as well as a raw honesty about their natures consistently throughout. The directing in that respect is also keen. It looks gorgeous, not just from the creative and sophisticated camerawork that also evokes the love for the time periods this takes place in; everything in the art direction and design is literally the best I’ve ever seen in a long, long time, especially from modern media. The costuming set dressing, production was all so beautiful and added to the convincing atmosphere that allows you to lean wholeheartedly into it. Not to also mention you look forward to every battle Beth comes across–as someone who has never played chess, the show allows for the population of chess and non-chess players to come together to admire the game nonetheless. All in all, this show makes chess look pretty damn epic.
Our Grade: B+, A fantastic, humorous, and well-rounded show that will charm you from one episode to the next. You fall in love with Beth Harmon and just how much of a complex and intelligent being you see her become. The appeals of the 60s-70s become more realized and palpable the longer you watch on for, which in itself extremely gratifying. My only confusion or critique would come from the predictable if not dull and sudden conclusion whose delivery felt somewhat contradictory to the point of Beth’s story, or at least more of an indication of an end/beginning to an era. Perhaps that is why we’ll definitely need to see another season.