What To Watch This Week: The Queen’s Gambit

What To Watch This Week: The Queen’s Gambit

The Queen's Gambit follows the life of an orphan prodigy named Beth on her quest to become the world's greatest chess player – all while she struggles with emotional issues and drug and alcohol dependency. Compelling and beautifully shot, here’s why the new Netflix show is worth a watch.

Based on the novel by Walter Tevis – the author whose books inspired the acclaimed films The Man Who Fell To Earth, The Hustler and The Color of Money – new Netflix limited series The Queen’s Gambit is a coming-of-age story that explores the true cost of genius. Following a car accident which kills her mother, nine-year-old Beth Harmon is entrusted to a Kentucky orphanage in the late 1950s, where she discovers her astonishing talent for chess, while also developing an addiction to the green tranquilisers provided by the state as a sedative for the children. Haunted by her past and fuelled by both narcotics and obsession, Beth transforms into an impressively skilled and glamorous outcast determined to conquer the traditional boundaries established in the male-dominated world of competitive chess.

When we meet Beth (who’s mostly played by newcomer Isla Johnston in the first couple of episodes) she is quiet, sullen, and by all appearances unremarkable. That is, until she plays her first game of chess, encouraged by surly janitor Mr Shaibel. Aided by the green pills she’s started to squirrel away and overdose on at night, her senses grow sharper, her thinking clearer, and for the first time in her life she feels fully in control. At 13, she is finally adopted by Alma and Allston Wheatley and goes to a local school, but remains an outsider. Desperate to study chess, but with no money, she steals a chess magazine and some money from Alma and a girl at school so she can enter a tournament. Her deceit pays off: by the age of 16, she’s competing for the US Open championship. But as Beth hones her skills on the professional circuit, the stakes get higher, her isolation grows more frightening, and the thought of escape becomes all the more tempting.

Engaging and fast-paced, Tevis’s gripping novel of chess, feminism and addiction is brought to life by Anya Taylor-Joy. Taylor-Joy first impressed in ​The Witch, which won her rave reviews when it premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Earlier this year, she also won plaudits for the title role in Emma. As the older Beth, Taylor-Joy’s large, expressive eyes tell the often-silent story of a young woman in the grip of addiction, as she jeopardises herself and those around her in her pursuit of becoming champion. With her cropped orange hair and ultra-cool 50s-style outfits, she might be the most unexpected fashion icon of 2020.

Taylor-Joy is joined by a stellar line-up, including Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood)​ ​as Alma Wheatley, the lonely housewife with an absent husband and her own vices, who welcomes Beth as both her adopted daughter and much-needed companion. Love Actually and Game of Thrones’ Thomas Brodie-Sangster​ ​is Benny Watts, a​ confident young chess talent who becomes one of Beth’s greatest opponents as well as one of her closest allies. Best of all is The Tragedy of Macbeth’s Moses Ingram​ ​as Jolene, a ​fellow orphan who quickly befriends Beth and helps her navigate the rules and regulations of orphan life. Elsewhere, the Harry Potter franchise’s Harry Melling is Harry Beltik, ​a traditional learner and one of the best chess players in the state of Kentucky, who is in awe of Beth’s talent; and the brilliant Bill Camp (The Night Of)​ ​as Mr Shaibel, the janitor who introduces Beth to the game of chess, opening new doors for the young prodigy.

The series was directed and written by two-time Academy Award and Emmy nominee Scott Frank, who recently worked on fellow Netflix Original Godless. Through his lens, he’s created a compelling seven-part series that oozes glamour and drama, all while making chess a thrilling subject – thanks, in no small part, to inviting some of the world’s best chess players to assist with the match sequences. Via a pastel-soaked backdrop and costumes that would make Wes Anderson proud and some excellent casting, The Queen’s Gambit is arguably one of the best things to hit Netflix this year.

The Queen’s Gambit is available to watch on Netflix now.

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