The Queen’s Gambit (2020)

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I spent most of the last week and a half leading up to the U.S. election binge-watching Netflix’s new limited series, The Queen’s Gambit (2020). Set in the late-1950s through the late-1960s, the show focuses on Beth Harmon, child chess prodigy with a tragic orphan backstory, who overcomes the odds to become one of the top-ranked chess players in the world. The show is based on the novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, which considering it was published in 1983, is a complete mystery to me how it never showed up on any of my middle-and-high school required summer reading lists. I came into the show completely unaware that the book existed, but now that I’ve watched the show I want to go back and read it, just to get a bit more of Beth in my life (as this is a limited series, there’s no plans for Netflix to expand it past the 7 episodes it already produced).

One of the things I enjoyed most about The Queen’s Gambit is that it didn’t pull any punches, but was able to build suspense and keep me at the edge of my seat without relying on physical or sexual violence happening to the main character to create beats in the plot (since I was already incredibly on edge with gestures vaguely everything in real life, this turned out to be a huge selling point for me because I just didn’t have the stomach for violence and terror). It was a lot like, well, watching a chess game: Surprisingly suspenseful and captivating, even if the drama is mainly relegated to the pieces in play on a chess board.

Unless you’re watching me play a chess game, and then it’s just an embarrassing bloodbath (I am not known for my chess playing acumen).

I love love love the mid-century modern aesthetic, and this show is steeped in it.

Anya Taylor-Joy, who is starting to rack up an impressive resume of historical roles (The Witch, The Miniaturist, and most recently 2020’s Emma) is captivating in the lead role of Beth Harmon, the orphaned prodigy who battles early addictions to pills and alcohol to cement her place in the pantheon of male chess masters. The supporting cast includes the fantastic Moses Ingram as Jolene, a fellow child at the orphanage who takes Beth under her wing and then returns years later to give her a well-needed kick in the pants (side note: Ingram is slated to appear as Lady Macduff in the forthcoming Macbeth directed by Joel Coen and co-starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDermott, which I am super looking forward to).

Moses Ingram plays Jolene, the closest thing Beth has to a sister.

Other notables are British actors Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Harry Melling, and Millie Brady who each have stints as love interests of Beth’s. I also really enjoyed seeing Marielle Heller in front of the camera as Beth’s adoptive mother who has a few of her own demons to battle while figuring out how to be a parent to a highly unusual child.

The dreamy Jacob Fortune-Lloyd plays Townes, Beth’s first crush.

Marielle Heller, who is more known for her behind the camera work than in front of it, does a lovely job with the role of Alma, Beth’s adoptive mother who also comes into her own during the course of the show.

Just like Beth, I couldn’t take my eyes off the exotic Parisian model Cleo, played by Millie Brady, in all her mid-’60s mod glory.

The costumes were designed by Gabriele Binder, who doesn’t have much that I recognize on her IMDB page, but who did an exceptional job here with capturing the fashions of the mid-to-late 1960s. The subtle monochromatic color scheme in Beth’s wardrobe was notable, as was the reoccurring theme of squares and checks either on her clothing or in her surroundings, echoing the black and white chess board.

My favorite dress of Beth’s was this creamy white frock with buttoned straps, from her chess championship in Mexico City in 1967.

Here’s a back and side view of the dress for posterity. You’re welcome.

Another favorite of mine was this ecru shift dress with black banding. It was so perfectly evocative of the mid-to-late 1960s pull towards the 1920s shape with a modern twist.

Another thematically similar dress is this one that Beth wears in a montage of her championship game in Moscow in 1968. Extra points if you have figured out that I am a huge fan of black and white clothing by now.

Another frock from the same montage as the previous one. Looks like it could be black gabardine with black velvet accents on the chest and hiplines, and possibly a neck-to-hem zipper in the front. LOVE THOSE POCKETS.

Beth’s black pantsuit with a knee-length frock coat style jacket at worn with a white turtleneck (a throwback to her childhood years) is another one of my favorite looks. Again, from Moscow 1968.

Beth isn’t at all perfect frocks and quaffed hair, however. As the series rolls along, her addiction to tranquilizers and alcohol eventually spirals out of control and results in some notable costume changes as well.

She’s not hit rock bottom yet, but it can’t be far from here.

I had a hard time getting a picture of the entire outfit, but this close up of Beth’s eye makeup is SO perfectly THAT ONE TIME IN THE LATE 1960s that I had to mention it here.

Some of Beth’s everyday looks are worth a mention, as well.

She wears the navy blue skort in a couple of different scenes with different tops. I liked that she re-wears a lot of her every day clothing, whereas her nicer game day dresses are usually only seen once or twice.

Serious lust for this black and white printed shirt. Please refer back to “Sarah and black and white clothing she has to have”.

Another top that Beth re-wears a number of times over the course of the show, paired with wide cuffed jeans.

 

Have you watched The Queen’s Gambit? Tell us about it in the comments!

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

15 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    I’m at present confining my streaming to YouTube as I’m recovering from rotator cuff surgery and not working. But I do want to see this.
    So if you are an aficionado of black and white, I bet you, like me adore Worth’s Ironwork Evening Gown at the Met and Cynthia Settje of Redthreaded recreation of it.

    Reply
  2. Elyse

    Loved this show for all the reasons you mentioned. Suspense without the need for horrible things happening to Beth, fabulous clothes (I want that dress from the Mexico Championship!), characters that develop (as much as you can in 7 episodes), and oh does the camera love Anya Taylor-Joy’s face! Those close-ups were stunning.

    Thank you for pointing out the black and white/check patterns. Totally didn’t notice it but it makes so much sense.

    Reply
  3. LadySlippers

    Oh gosh. I absolutely adored this series and am saddened it’s just a one-time only thing. Like you, I need more of this story so plan on reading the book as well.

    Which outfit to pick as my favourite… I might have to rewatch the series because there are so many. 😉

    I liked some of her coloured outfits (was it a deep green that I’m thinking of first?!?). Her last outfit, the white one, stood out because it was such a contrast to her previous, more somber palette in clothing. I read the ending white outfit was meant to resemble a chess queen piece — which I saw after I read it. During the series I saw it as a transition to how she saw the world from a new, lighter perspective. (I’m sure there are other interpretations as well that are valid). Even the lighting itself brightens up.

    For anyone and everyone — this is a fabulous series that shows strong and vulnerable women trying to make it through life. Women and men are all complex characters. Well written, directed, and acted! The set decorations and costumes just take this series to a delectable level. It’s a must see. Truly.

    Reply
  4. Mizdema

    Tom and Lorenzo did a good analysis (as usual) on this show, especially about the squares…..

    Reply
  5. notanothercostumingblog

    Ugh I loved this SO MUCH, and it’s probably the first TV show since season one of Sherlock that has actually had an impact on my personal fashion. I loved the low-key kinda beatnik looks she wears in episodes 5 and 6 before she goes to Paris and I’m in a search for some really flat oxfords like she wears for her match against Girev in Mexico City. I also, thanks to this show, had a total break-through in actually applying cat-eye liner that doesn’t look stupid on my downturned eyes, so that’s cool. I just wish I could pull off the hair but that’s not happening.

    Reply
  6. Frannie Germeshausen

    I’m not a fan of that time period of fashion, but DAMN I loved her clothes!

    Reply
  7. Charity

    I binged this in one day I loved it so much. She was so damn adorable in those outfits. I wanted to own every single one. :P

    Reply
  8. Caroline

    Loved the show and the costumes!! I too loved the button strap dress. And OMG I’m going to be that one commenter who corrects your spelling…it’s coiffed, not quaffed (don’t hate me, cause I love y’all).

    Reply
  9. Sheryl

    Thank you for this review that helped me relive the style of this excellent drama. My boyfriend and I lived through this era and were stunned at how perfectly the clothes and cars and interiors reproduced the era.

    Reply
  10. Sahibjaan

    Does ATJ dye her hair a new role for every period drama role?Nonetheless all period dramas in this show had excellent costuming.
    The black pantsuit looks straight out of the 60s,sheer perfection.

    Reply
  11. KMS

    LOVED this miniseries. Anya Taylor-Joy really lives up to her name, because she is a joy to watch. It’s interesting to see her talk about Beth’s style in interviews because she mentions how it important it was to her that Beth was always dressed well as she became a rising star in the chess world. Basically, she wanted to make it clear that Beth didn’t have to choose between being smart and being beautiful and she never tried to hide her overt femininity simply because she was operating in a male-dominated industry.

    Reply
  12. SarahV

    AH!!!!! How could you have omitted that coat!?!! That large soft pink and white check coat she wears when shopping in Paris? I’ve have never covetted a garment so much in my life.

    (AND I hate pink normally)

    Reply
    • Louis Robinson von Beckhoff

      Watched the entire series four times so far. Need i say more? The g rated, child appropriate photographs are my contribution to the mid twentieth century captured in b&w mainly. My thanks for your review. Fashions and cars etc from the 60’s and the 70’s. momentsintimepast.net
      momentsintimepast.com
      250 images total. Childproof.
      If a second season is half as good it will be amazing viewing. Let us hope. Blessings. Louie

      Reply

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