Review: The Queen’s Gambit revolutionizes chess

Courtesy art

By Ava Dunwoody | Arts & Life Editor

Based on the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, The Queen’s Gambit’s (2020) scripted limited series has taken the world by storm. On Nov. 23, Netflix posted a Tweet revealing the show broke a new record with 62 million households watching in the first 28 days, making it Netflix’s “biggest scripted limited series to date.”

In only seven episodes, The Queen’s Gambit tells the story of Beth Harmon (played by the wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy), who was orphaned at the age of nine in the 1960s. While in an orphanage, she discovers her genius ability to play the game of chess and grows to battle the best in the world.

In my opinion, one of the most interesting aspects of the show was the development of Harmon’s drug addiction, starting with the orphanage’s use of tranquilizer pills to calm the young girls. I appreciated that the use of these drugs and later the use of cigarettes and alcohol were not romanticized, but rather questioned by the other characters in the show.

Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Harry Beltik (Harry Melling) and Jolene (Moses Ingram) all played pivotal roles in calling out Harmon on her addiction and pulling her out of it. The series showcased the dangers of drug abuse in a way that consciously made me as the viewer root for her to stop using, which is something I think is unique to this show.

Another aspect of the show that made me fall in love was the amazing cinematography concepts. As someone who has never been interested in chess, I found the fantastical display of the chessboard on the ceiling engaging and wonderfully creative; I felt like I was able to better understand what the mind of a genius must look like.

And when Harmon played Watts in the US Championship montage? Incredible. The seven screens with the retro camera lenses mixed with the edgy soundtrack made chess interesting. I couldn’t get enough of the rivalry and was left on the edge of my seat in anticipation.

One thing I was left curious about was Harmon’s relationship with Cleo (Millie Brady). Was it a coincidence that she showed up randomly the night before two important matches? What happened that night? What was her purpose? For a while, I suspected that maybe she was working with Borgov (Marcin Dorocinski), but nothing came of that. I guess I will never know.

Executive producer William Horberg said in an interview with Town and Country, “The last scene feels like a beautiful note to end the show on, so I’m not sure if we want to go on and answer that question. Maybe we can just let the audience imagine what comes next.”

Even Anya Taylor-Joy herself said that while she would love to come back and play Harmon again, she thinks the show ended in a good place.

From the sound of it, we won’t be getting another season. I guess viewers like me are left rewatching the series for hidden details and seriously amazing fashion (shoutout to costume designer Gabriele Binder!). With Harmon in my most recently watched, I might even have to try out a game of chess for myself.