A surprise mega-hit for Netflix in the fall of 2020, The Queen’s Gambit presents a seven-part, chess-themed miniseries that’s pure joy for fans of stylish, lavishly-produced television content. The show was created by Scott Frank, with incredible cinematography by Steven Meizler. Combining spectacular set designs with snazzy costumes, makeup, and background location art, The Queen’s Gambit will wow you. And that’s whether you’re sitting down for a cinematic marathon in your home movie theater or looking to score a checkmate with a portable projector while on vacation. At approximately seven hours long, this show is not only interesting and gorgeous, it’s also ripe for an overnight marathon.
The story is based on a novel of the same name written by Walter Tevis. While Tevis’ book may not be well known, the Netflix show has done a lot to promote chess in a very short time.
As The Queen’s Gambit begins, we witness main character Beth Harmon as a young orphan. While at an orphanage, Beth takes an interest in chess, which is encouraged by her mentor, the local caretaker and custodian (played by Bill Camp). Eventually Beth grows up and we see her as a young adult, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. Beth lives with her foster parent Alma (Marielle Wheatley), who soon also takes to supporting Beth’s chess interests when she realizes there’s money to be made in winning chess tournaments and gradually learns to accept Beth genuinely as her daughter.
Beth proves a natural master of chess, able to visualize moves with almost supernatural perception. She quickly rises to stardom and goes on the international chess championship circuit in a highly gripping and convincing story, loaded with great acting and superb visuals.
You don’t need to know anything about chess to enjoy The Queen’s Gambit, despite the show being named after one of the most famous maneuvers in the game. What you do need is an appreciation for compelling television and a love of beautiful visuals and memorable presentation. The Queen’s Gambit gives likewise well-produced shows such as The Crown, Game of Thrones, and Mad Men a major run for their money. Set from the late 1950s to the end of the 1960s, the show’s producers did a great job recreating the time period, including a healthy dose of Cold War tension. That’s because “the Soviets” are here as sort of the antagonists, although not in the traditional sense. We don’t want to spoil anything.
As part of her flourishing chess career, Beth travels the globe and dons more outfits than we can list. Every location and every piece of clothing appears with vivid, faithful detail. And that’s saying a lot, because even though Beth may be in Mexico City, New York, or Moscow, the production was filmed almost entirely in suburban Toronto and somewhat in Berlin. Which goes to show how well made this miniseries is. If you’re a fashion fan you’ll love all the various couture Beth and her assembly of friends wear, with notable mention going to cowboy-esque competitor and ally Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster). There’s so much texture and detail in The Queen’s Gambit, the higher the resolution you can watch it in, the better. But the show looks great in any case.
The Queen’s Gambit mixes equal parts big budget production, authentic visuals, excellent acting, and a very relatable story that most people will find rewarding. It touches on many socially-relevant topics without ever becoming preachy or obvious, and benefits from the bountiful talent and charm of its lead. Anya Taylor-Joy has previously starred in The Witch, Morgan, Emma, and Split, among others, and in each case essentially stole the show. The Queen’s Gambit is no exception, and you should watch it.