Chess

("chess pieces" by Nit Soto is licensed under CC-BY SA 2.0)

“The Queen’s Gambit,” a new Netflix limited-series based on the novel by Walter Tevis, quietly arrived on the platform amid the pre-presidential election hype. While it may not have made the waves its creators were hoping it would, the seven-episode series is undoubtedly a gem in the rough.

The series stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon, a young girl abandoned in an all-girls orphanage. While struggling to fit in and find meaning in her new world, she meets a janitor who (grudgingly) teaches her the game of chess in the basement of the orphanage.

Beth quickly picks the game up and begins to shock high school chess coaches and players alike, taking the male-dominated competition head-on. It soon becomes apparent that Beth is a prodigy, and that she is determined to dominate the world of chess at any cost.

During her time in the orphanage, the girls are given tranquilizer pills, which Beth uses to enhance her chess game. Eventually, though, the pills become an addiction, beginning her long and arduous journey to overcome both pill addiction and alcoholism, as well as a fear of failure.

When Beth is adopted, she must learn how to adjust to the real world while balancing addiction and the pressures that come with the fame of a rising star, leading to a truly unique coming-of-age story that feels different from anything you’ve seen before.

Anya Taylor-Joy’s deadpan delivery makes the dialogue between Beth and her male rivals entertaining and humorous, and while the rising chess star may not be perfect, one can’t help but fall in love with her quirky confidence and honesty.

The supporting cast members are also a hand-in-glove fit for their roles. Thomas Brodie-Sangster is the perfect casting choice for an eccentric chess prodigy, Marielle Heller was perfect in her role as the troubled but supportive mother and Marcin Dorociński was a natural in his role as the intimidating Russian champion.

There aren’t always happy endings, or even endings at all, for many of the characters, but that’s what makes it real. Life isn’t a story that always follows a predictable format, and the producers do an outstanding job of imitating reality while crafting an entertaining and memorable story.

The dialogue for the characters seem true to their personalities throughout, and the storylines and writing are spectacular, giving off an undeniable air of reality that allows you to suspend your disbelief while watching all the way through.

The series feels less like a TV show and more like a seven-hour movie, and chances are, you’ll keep letting that “next episode” bar fill up and watch it like one as well. 

While the story revolves around chess, it’s less about the game and more about life. The unique and thought-provoking journey through Beth’s rise to fame and awkward teenage years, as well as her road to overcoming loss, abandonment and addiction, makes the series one of Netflix’s best originals to date.