You’ve probably been living under a rock if you haven’t heard at least one person gushing over The Queen’s Gambit, a limited series now streaming on Netflix, starring Anya Taylor-Joy. But just in case you have been living under that rock, let me add my voice to the chorus of praise – The Queens’ Gambit is an utterly exquisite piece of entertainment.
Taylor-Joy plays Beth Harmon, an orphaned chess prodigy. We see her develop from a young girl (Isla Johnston plays a younger Beth in the first episode and is equally as captivating to watch on screen as Taylor-Joy) as she discovers the game after an encounter with her orphanage’s caretaker. Showing a quick talent, she hones her skills and when adopted as a teenager sets her sights on the world of competitive chess. Unfortunately, the path to success isn’t quite straightforward as she struggles with addictions and the line between genius and chaos.
A tv show about chess may sound dull, but it’s anything but dull. Just as Beth is a master of chess, director Scott Frank is a master of the screen. The show is delightfully slow but precise, just as any chess move should be. It’s inviting but delicate and tows the line in such a charming manner. It’s one of the most visually stimulating shows I’ve seen in a long time and I recommend looking up some of the many articles and interviews with the set and costume designers after you watch the show. Whilst watching, keep your eye out for the chessboard imagery you will see weaved through every scene, be it through clothing or scenery, everything is placed perfectly.
The chess scenes themselves play just as important a role as any of the emotional beats and are choreographed to perfection. Taylor-Joy has mentioned using her previous ballet training to make her finger movements seem elegant during the games, and every move played is a real chess move. Cinematographer Steven Meizler makes these matches seem inviting and despite the large number of them throughout the 7 episode run, every one seems different, more intense, desperately important. These scenes however would be nothing without the sound. The noise of a chess piece hitting the board has never sounded more orgasmic, and the tension in these scenes is palpable – Taylor-Joys enthralling expressions only furthering this.
This is a clear star vehicle for Anya Taylor-Joy who glides through the series with ease, never letting you take your eyes off of her for a second. She’s had success previously in film, but this mini-series may well start putting her on awards ballots next year.
The development of Beth’s relationships with those around her is fascinating and just as important as her development in chess playing. Marielle Heller (director of A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood) plays her adoptive mother and we see a unique relationship form between the pair. Alongside this, fellow chess players Harry Beltik (Harry Melling) and Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) become important figures in Beth’s life, especially as she starts to succumb to a tranquiliser addiction developed from her time at the orphanage, that quickly spirals to alcohol and other drugs. It sparks a question that’s been looked at before when it comes to creative excellence and addiction – can Beth only succeed when she has these vices to drown the other noise out?
It was an absolute pleasure to sip at an episode of The Queen’s Gambit every evening. Immaculate through and through, with sound design that rivals any other piece of media I’ve encountered. A pure treat.
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