Movie Review: The Queen’s Gambit Leaves You Dreaming about Winning Even While at Rock Bottom

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‘White’ or ‘Black’, the first move in chess often sets the tone of how the game plays out. The same happens in the game of life only there are now more than 204 squares on the board.

In its latest drama miniseries, Netflix tells the coming-of-age story of an orphaned chess prodigy, Beth on her rise to becoming the world’s greatest chess player as she faces adversity both on and off the board.

Movie Review: The Queen's Gambit Leaves You Dreaming about Winning Even at Rock Bottom

Set in the cold war era between the mid-1950s and 1960s, the series follows nine-year-old Beth Harmon’s (Anya Taylor‑Joy) discovery of her talent for chess and her rise to stardom in an era where Chess was dominated by men.

At an average of 60 minutes per episode, The Queen’s Gambit captivates you with the life of Beth and keeps you hitting the next episode button to find out who else she defeats.

After losing her mother in a car crash, Beth finds herself in an orphanage where she is taught chess by the building’s custodian, Mr Shaibel. Unfortunately, she also gets addicted to the daily tranquillizer pills that were commonly dispensed to girls during the 1950s.

Beth quickly develops a knack for chess due to her visualization skills, which are enhanced by the tranquillizers. The first episode shows her playing imaginative chess on the ceiling of her room.

Movie Review: The Queen's Gambit Leaves You Dreaming about Winning Even at Rock Bottom
Beth visualising a chess match

The Queen’s Gambit is based on an adaptation of Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel about a young chess prodigy who overcomes a family tragedy and substance abuse addiction to become the best chess player in the world. The series was written and directed by Scott Frank. 

Like all addicts, her craving for the green pills almost kills her after she consumes too much. A captivating scene shows her standing on a chair while eating pills before she collapses as if gravity disappeared beneath her.

Despite her addiction, Beth was already beating adults and groups of players at chess at the young age of 9. A scene shows her beating both Mr Shaibel and Mr Ganz from his chess club at the same time.

Movie Review: The Queen's Gambit Leaves You Dreaming about Winning Even at Rock Bottom
Beth holding a bowl of green pills

A few years later, Beth is adopted by Alma Wheatley and her husband from Lexington. As she adjusts to her new home and school, she enters a chess tournament and wins despite having no prior experience in competitive chess.

In the movie Beth made friends with chess experts like former Kentucky state champion, Harry Beltik; gifted but arrogant chess prodigy Benny Watts; and journalist, photographer, and fellow player D.L. Townes.

Frank didn’t disappoint as he efficiently directed the movie, with one of my favourite scenes being the fast chess battle between Beth and Benny in the bar. It was the first time Beth actually looked human.

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As Beth continues to win games, she quickly becomes a renowned player in the world of chess. Her success also came with money which gives her the freedom to become more dependent on drugs and alcohol.

The first two episodes reflect Beth as an underdog who faces addiction, loss and abandonment. Her success against the odds reflects the importance of perseverance, family, and finding, and staying true to, oneself.

Movie Review: The Queen's Gambit Leaves You Dreaming about Winning Even at Rock Bottom
Beth VS Vasily Borgov

The series climaxed with Beth winning the title of World champion from Vasily Borgov after two crushing defeats that saw her hit the bender with drugs and alcohol.

A huge surprise was the fact that during her final chess battle in Moscow, Beth who has always been a one lady genius, received help from all the top players she had defeated in the US.

Apart from the chess battles, the blend of romance between Beth and Harry, Benny and Townes was tingling and heartwarming. It leaves you with a question of who would have been the best for Beth.

That said I will like to point out that I would have loved to see more of Jolene (Moses Ingram) Beth’s closest childhood friend. However, that hardly matters as I loved it as it is. Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance as Beth Harmon was as captivating as it was heart-jarring.

The seven-episode drama has hit No. 1 on the streamer’s rankings in more than 60 countries including Nigeria.

The Queen’s Gambit was released on October 23, 2020, and has set a viewership record of hitting 62 million household views in its first 28 days. This is the highest for a scripted limited edition series by Netflix.

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The series has also received a positive response from the chess community and is credited with spurring a resurgence of public interest in the game.

Google searches for “How To Play Chess” have hit a nine-year peak. Additionally, inquiries for “chess sets on eBay are up 250%” and Goliath Games says its chess sales have “increased over 170%” since Queen’s Gambit debuted.

Testifying to the beauty of the series, The Queen’s Gambit received an approval rating of 100% based on 70 reviews, with an average rating of 8.01/10 on Rotten Tomatoes.

Metacritic similarly gave the series a weighted average score of 79 out of 100 based on 28 reviews, indicating “generally favourable reviews”.

As a lover of chess, I can confidently say that the series depicts some of the bests intrigues of the game. It explores the intrigue of tactics, the thrill of winning and the pain of lossing.

If you are searching for a series to binge on this weekend, The Queen’s Gambit is my Number 1 suggestion for you. Just get your popcorn and catch fun.

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