By Brooke Davis
“The Queen’s Gambit” is Scott Frank’s adaptation of Walter Tevis’ coming-of-age novel The Queen’s Gambit. The limited series on Netflix is set in the mid-1950s to the 60s. It follows Beth, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who discovers her remarkable talent for chess. Netflix describes the show as about a girl “sent to an orphanage at age nine,” and she “develops an uncanny knack for chess—and a growing dependence on the green tranquilizers given to the children.” The show is rated TV-MA because it features addiction, trauma, and obsession.
This series incorporates world-class acting and spectacular visual language that has viewers on the edge of their seats, wanting more. When the story starts, Beth is 9-years-old and is thrown into a Christian school for orphans after her mother died in a car crash. Since she spends most of her teen years at this school, she develops a friendship with Jolene, played by Moses Ingram, which turns into a lifelong bond between the two. Beth discovers a handyman at the school who plays chess in the basement while she is cleaning off the chalkboard erasers. This exchange grows into an attachment in which Beth has to learn about this intellectual sport for herself and she quickly gets the hang of it. The school gives Beth and the other children green tranquilizers as “vitamins”, but Jolene advises her that it’s better to save them for bed. When Beth takes the pills at bedtime, an imaginary world of chess unfolds on the ceiling for Beth to actively sort out chess matches and determine their outcomes effortlessly.
After her time in the orphanage/school, Beth is older and has a lot to handle. Anya Taylor-Joy effortlessly plays Beth from age 14 and beyond. Taylor-Joy’s performance adds grace and glamour to Beth as her story encompasses drugs, alcohol, and an obsession with chess. The story continues with Beth always feeling like she is alone, although she has dozens of people around her who continuously support her. This is shown by the way Taylor-Joy can capture the attention
of viewers through her enchanting performance. Beth grows intellectually as the chess competition gets more intense and serious, but as this happens, her anxiety and mania grow as well.
The thoughtfulness that went into the screenplay of what Beth encounters is shown through her experience in the chess world. Being one of the youngest players and the only female competitor makes the lifestyle challenging, but worth it to Beth. Taylor-Joy shows this competitiveness by constantly expressing the concern for what moves the other player will make and fixating on the future rather than the present. This brings shortcomings that make Beth stumble on what’s happening mentally, making her feel incompetent. Usually, these shortcomings are easily outshined by Beth’s determination for more power within the chess world. This brings passion, excitement, and anticipation as Beth conquers everyone in her way most of the time.
The sport itself can be seen as something that isn’t exciting because it’s played with precision and brainpower rather than violence and intensity that other sports require. Some people may read the description of the Netflix show and think, “Chess is boring, why would I watch something that is boring?” Well, if you take the time to watch a single episode then you’ll see that it’s much more than that. This limited series takes you on a ride that makes you not want to get off even after it’s over and there’s no more of the story left to tell. It was a privilege to be captivated by this amazing show with adventure and strong emotions within every episode. The show makes it less about chess and more about the beauty of taking control of your life.