The Queen’s Gambit Review
by M. Lowe
“This masterful use of surrealism, paired with the acute realism of the accurately constructed games, aids the viewer’s understanding of the sport and – more importantly – those who dare to play.”
Director: Scott Frank
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomas Brodie-Sangster & Marielle Heller
Synopsis: We follow the story of the sharp, single-minded and sedative-dependent chess prodigy, Beth Harmon. The Queen’s Gambit tells not only the story of a champion, but of an orphaned young woman battling with addiction and coming of age.
Review: I’m certain that of the 62 million people who viewed The Queen’s Gambit, not one could dispute the fact that it is stunning to watch. I was instantly transported to the 1960s by the lavish sets, excellent score and use of vaguely familiar actors which provide a uniquely nostalgic feel. The role of Beth Harmon was played faultlessly by the hypnotically beautiful Anya Taylor-Joy, who gave her an intense and indecipherable quality. I thought this worked extremely well in her many games of chess played throughout the series which demand such an attitude. I was impressed with how she embodied the character from the ages of fifteen (or thirteen, as she convinces her adoptive parents) to twenty, believably. This transition was visually facilitated by the wonderful costumes of the show (designed by Gabriele Binder) which mapped Harmon’s metamorphosis from gawky teen to glamorous icon. This change was particularly refreshing, given that a common trope in media seems to dictate that a clever female couldn’t possibly waste time on style. The decisively chic outfits that Harmon sports contrast so starkly with the drab tweed adorning her male counterparts that they threaten any who try – and fail – to defeat her.
In my opinion, the reason this show has been so incredibly successful is because of how it gives the common viewer a glimpse into the mind of a chess player. Illustrating her rapacious appetite for the study of the game, Beth projects intoxicated visions of the board onto the ceiling to play out possible scenarios in her head. This masterful use of surrealism, paired with the acute realism of the accurately constructed games, aids the viewer’s understanding of the sport and – more importantly – those who dare to play. I found that all the chess-players in The Queen’s Gambit (from the blasé Benny to the unyielding Russian player, Borgov) exhibit this same obsession in various ways. Inescapably, The Queen’s Gambit is a gateway into chess.
I only have one grievance regarding the show that comes down to a scene in the penultimate episode in which Beth is experiencing a downward spiral. As she drunkenly twirls around the living room in her underwear, hair and makeup flawless whilst she vomits into a trophy, the viewer can’t help but recognise the influence of the male gaze. It felt to me like a romanticised fabrication of the female breakdown and almost negates my initial impression of the series: being that I found it empowering. Was it realistic to have Beth face little to no misogyny throughout her journey, which – in case I haven’t mentioned already – was set in the 1960s?
Perhaps less politically, I also – of course – would have appreciated more development in the relationship between Beth and Benny Watts (a fellow ‘grand master’ of the game). I’ll put this shortcoming down to chess being Harmon’s one and only ‘true love’.
The Queen’s Gambit is currently available to stream on Netflix. It was rated 15 by the BBFC.