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).
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).
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 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.
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.
Some of Beth’s everyday looks are worth a mention, as well.
Have you watched The Queen’s Gambit? Tell us about it in the comments!