The Queen’s Gambit: A Review

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Gianna Amato

The Queen’s Gambit is a 9 episode Netflix limited series that was released in late October of 2020 and has been awarded two Golden Globes. One was for best limited series and the other was given for best performance by an actress in a limited series. The series based on the 1983 novel written by Walter Tevis “set the record as the most-watched scripted limited series to date on Netflix — with 62 million member accounts tuning in to the show in the first 28 days, according to the company,” (Spangler). The compelling series tells the tragic life story of Beth Harmon, a young girl left orphaned after the death of her mother at just nine years old. Whilst trying to survive in an orphanage with questionable practices, Beth becomes dependent on pills that were being supplied to her by her caretakers. She subsequently discovers the popular board game chess and it quickly becomes an outlet for Beth, which kicks off this 1960s period piece.

Prominent themes within this story are friendship and family, self-destruction, sexism, addiction, loneliness, and the price of genius. From a very young and impressionable age, Beth is thrust into a life of isolation. With no family and very few friends, she throws herself into chess. It is something she is good at and something she can dominate when her life is spiraling out of her control. A chessboard is a very tiny world in which she understands every piece, square, and inch of it. However, despite her enviable talent at chess, it does not come without cost. From a young age, Beth’s mind was not like any other. She was gifted at something and everyone wanted to be like her. She was a strong female role model for other oppressed women of her time, and this came with its own set of pressures. In a male-dominated field, she felt like she had to be the best to prove her worthiness of playing amongst men she was constantly told were unbeatable, causing Beth to constantly return to a cycle of self-destructive behavior. From her substance dependencies to her obsession with winning and control, the audience often feels frustrated with her. It feels as though every time she is on the right track, she does something to steer herself off of it. She pushes away people who love her and isolates herself, never allowing herself to live up to her full potential. Thankfully, Beth ends up making a few close friends on her journey to the top, and even when she tries to shut them out, they choose to be there for her. Beth may have lost her family when she was a child, but that has not stopped a family from forming around her, whether she knew it when she made these friends or not. I think these themes can hit close to home for a lot of people, but even if they do not, Beth is a charming character that makes you feel true empathy for her during her hardships.

A vital element of “The Queen’s Gambit” is the overall aesthetic and visual aspect of it. From the color palette to the camera-work and altogether cinematography, this exceptional series will have you marveling at each episode. The colors used in the show resemble that of a chessboard. They are quite dull and grey-toned, but do not be fooled. The visuals in this series are anything but boring. Many of the set designs and fashion are very reminiscent of the 1960s in which the story takes place. This lets you dive into the show and helps you fully grasp what it was like to live during this era. You also get to understand what it is like in the mind of someone like Beth through these visual effects. Being able to jump inside her head gives the audience a better understanding of a complex and unique character like Beth, and makes it easier to identify with her as well. Lastly, the outfits displayed in the series are breathtaking. They complement the style of the show seamlessly and make Beth truly iconic. She cares about her appearance and has a love for fashion while also displaying intelligence and depth beyond her looks. She is a strong female lead in this show and as a whole, the visually pleasing aspect to it portrays Beth as powerful and vulnerable at times, which undeniably completes the series. The aesthetic of “The Queen’s Gambit” does not disappoint and is sure to inspire many fashion trends and Pinterest boards for fans of the show. 

Not only do relatable themes and an eye-catching style make this show great, but the mechanics are a huge part as well. Rising actress Anya Taylor-Joy plays our main character, Beth Harmon. Her mannerisms, subtle facial expressions, and balance of confidence and despair in her acting allow her to truly embody the complicated, layered character of someone like Beth. Anya’s, as well as other actors’ acclaimed performances, make this show what it is. Not many people are well-versed in the world of chess, but that is not at all necessary knowledge if you are interested in watching this show. The audience can tell whether a certain move was good or bad based on the players’ faces, proving how precise these actors are. But without a gripping script, there would be nothing to act! Allan Scott, the producer, is merely one working part of the intricate machine it took to create “The Queen’s Gambit.” He details that it took “more than 30 years, eight different directors, and nine rewrites before getting the show on TV,” (Aten). Understandably, this series meant the world to him, and it was crucial that if he was going to do it, he would need to do it right. Scott’s passion and determination are evident to the viewer. All the major pieces of a perfectly planned and executed show are there, making it an enthralling series to watch.

I would implore you to give the masterpiece that is “The Queen’s Gambit” a chance to become your most adored series yet. This series is hands-down one of the best original series’ Netflix has released so far and millions of people agree, even some Ramapo students. Lauren Markarian, sophomore, says, “I love this show. The actors and sets were just mind-blowing in this series. It was refreshing to see a woman competing in the male-dominated field of chess. I highly recommend everyone watches this show…you will truly learn a lot!” This show is making an impact on people, especially young women looking for a powerful role model in modern cinema, and Beth Harmon is a great example of that. However, anyone can enjoy this show and I recommend you check it out as soon as you get the chance because this is not a series you want to miss out on!