The Queen’s Gambit Reigns on Netflix



The Queen’s Gambit has been on Netflix’s Top Ten list since its release date on Oct. 23rd, 2020.

By Bella Berg (I), Staff Writer

Despite never having played chess, chess movies and TV shows have always engrossed me. So when The Queen’s Gambit debuted on Netflix, I knew I had to watch it. The Queen’s Gambit is a 2020 drama created for Netflix based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel of the same title. The Queen’s Gambit is entirely fictional. In the acknowledgments, however, the author Tevis wrote that Grandmasters Robert Fischer, Boris Spassky and Anatoly Karpov, all of whom were active in the chess scene in the ’60s, inspired him. Beth’s career resembles Bobby Fischer’s the most: inner demons tormented both, they learned Russian and were self-sufficient.

The show begins in the mid-1950s and continues into the 1960s following orphaned chess prodigy Beth Harmon, played by actress Anya Taylor-Joy. The story follows her rise to becoming the world’s greatest chess player whilst struggling with emotional problems, drug dependency and alcoholism. The opening scene is in Lexington, Kentucky at an orphanage, where nine-year-old Beth loses her mother in a car accident. Beth begins to learn chess from the building’s custodian, Mr. Shaibel, and starts to sneak out of classes and Mass to play in the basement with him.

But chess is not the only thing Beth fixates on at the orphanage. Matt Miller from Esquire states, “The main conflict in The Queen’s Gambit is not between the protagonist Beth Harmon and her brilliant opponents across the chessboard. It’s between her and her own struggles with addiction.” 

At the orphanage, the workers dispense daily tranquilizer pills to the girls, to which Beth grows addicted to. This was a very common practice in the 1950s after the rise of benzodiazepines, or tranquilizers and anti-anxiety pills. A 2018 report from BuzzFeed News says, “Among the abuses of many orphanages in the U.S. and Canada throughout the middle of the 20th century was the common use of intravenous sedatives to keep children calm.”

A few years later, Beth is adopted by Alma Wheatley and her husband from Lexington, Kentucky. There, she enters a local chess tournament and wins despite never having played competitively before. Beth continues to skip school and travel around the country playing tournaments and winning against very high-ranked players.

Beth’s goal? To play Vasily Borgov, the Soviet-Russian world champion of chess. Hence, the show details her buildup to playing in national and international tournaments by having her learn Russian and meet new people. Her struggle with addiction, however, holds her back in her love life and even in certain chess tournaments.

This coming-of-age drama is a perfect work of feminism and resilience, showing troubled orphan Beth Harmon rise up the ranks of chess players and find her purpose in life. As she progresses from a local girl to an international sensation, we can witness Beth’s confidence grow and see her character develop.

I will refrain from spoiling the ending, but everyone ought to watch this seven-episode series. The soundtrack, the outfits and the hairstyles are beautiful and set the scene perfectly to make viewers fall in love with the 1960s aesthetic. The cinematography makes watchers engrossed in the show, and coupled with the emotional storylines, it is hard to stop watching once you’ve started.

Lucas Aho (I) describes the series, “Not only was it absolutely gorgeous to watch, but [it was] a thrilling and engaging story. Despite not knowing anything about chess, I loved seeing a woman destroy overconfident men and rise above challenges. I’d recommend it to everyone.” The Queen’s Gambit (TV-MA) is now streaming on Netflix as a “limited series.” Students and teachers alike will enjoy this satisfying, gritty, underdog tale with a stunning female lead and brilliantly written characters.