“The Queen’s Gambit”: Is it worth the hype?

Karina Borisova

The Queen’s Gambit is a 2020 American drama miniseries based on Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel of the same name. It was written and directed by Scott Frank, who created it with Allan Scott. The Queen’s Gambit has all the pieces in place to make for a binge-worthy classic. It’s got a near-seamless story, dramatic stakes, slick camerawork, 1960s’ vibrancy, and killer costumes. Warning, some scenes are for mature viewers, The Queen’s Gambit is rated TV-MA. 

     24-year old Anya Taylor-Joy plays the lead role of Harmon. She was nominated for a 2021 Golden Globes best actress in a motion picture — musical or comedy. The Queen’s Gambit also got nominated for best television limited series or motion picture made for television. With 62 million viewers tuning in from countries all over the world within the first month of its airing, the show has dominated and claimed a place on Netflix’s Top Ten, only furthering its popularity. 

     A large part of the success of the show comes from the aesthetic. Set in Cold-War America, The Queen’s Gambit does an exceedingly good job at depicting what life was actually like. The show also succeeds in the wardrobe department, as every character is accurately dressed in stunning clothes that match the era. Daniel Parker, is the show’s award-winning makeup artist. Parker produced a series’ worthy of ’50s and ’60s-inspired hair and makeup looks that don’t just look beautiful but tell the story as well as any script. 

     The original limited series follows an orphan, Elizabeth “Beth” Harmon, and her journey from playing chess in the basement of an orphanage to then becoming the number one player in the world. Beth Harmon played by Isla Johnston as a 9-year-old who is orphaned by a car crash where her parents passed away and was sent to live at the Methuen Home for Girls. The Queen’s Gambit is a story of a female protagonist in a traditionally male space. The show does an excellent job of featuring the young protagonist as she battles with drugs, alcohol addiction, depression, and loss. It’s brutally honest about the trials of the life that Harmon goes through and refuses to sugarcoat or romanticize anything, which is rare in mainstream media nowadays.  

     When Beth Harmon discovers the game of chess by accident she meets crabby caretaker Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp) who plays alone by the light of a dim lamp in the basement. Beth feels an instant enchantment to the chessboard. Chess becomes an escape from her life at the orphanage, and eventually the ticket to a better life. 

     The Series proves that chess can be as exciting and as cinematic as boxing. You don’t need to understand the game to enjoy the gripping contests of wits, shots and counter shots of the player’s faces. The reaction shots of people watching Beth play, and the ticking of the chess clock will let you know exactly how the game is turning out. In dynamically edited sequences, she simultaneously defeats twelve young boys of a high-school chess club, and later a trio of grandmasters in a game of speed chess. As Beth puts it in the Netflix series, “It’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it, I can dominate it. And it’s predictable. So, if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame.” 

     In the second-to-last episode, Beth goes head-to-head for the second time with Vasily Borgov (played by Marcin Dorocinski), a Russian grandmaster who she sees as her biggest competitor and  standing in the way of her way of being the number one player in the world. In Paris, she spends a night with her friend Cleo, causing her to show up late from her match, and promptly loses to Borgov. She returns home upset, cutting off all of her remaining friends out of her life and slipping into another long-term bender.

     The final episode will take you on a whirlwind of emotions. The episode really shows how from almost losing everything, you don’t have to give up and with dedication, you can achieve anything. It doesn’t matter where she goes now that she’s gotten what she needs, which is being the world’s number one player. Whether she stays in Russia or she goes back to America and Jolene, her best friend from the orphanage, travels the world together, Beth is feeling more comfortable with herself and feels like she has a home within herself.  

     I highly recommend watching The Queen’s Gambit. It’s a highly addictive show and will leave you wanting more, it could take a while for a second season to materialize even if there is a green light. It will likely be a long time before a new batch of episodes is ready for binge-watching.