Queen's Gambit: Netflix Review
by James Reid
Queen's Gambit is one of those shows that looks drab on paper. It's a period drama about a chess player set against the backdrop of America's "Chess Cold War" with Russia. The show, based off a novel of the same name in 1983 by Walter S. Tevis, is one of the first true works of art released this year. The story isn’t a retelling of history. If you are interested in a comparable story about an American-Russian rivalry based on reality, check out Pawn Sacrifice. In real history it was Bobby Fischer who had this great moment for America when he beat the greatest player in the world, Boris Spasky. This story takes a fictional character named Beth Harmon and pits her against Vasily Burgov.
First one must give credit to the most valuable player of the cast and crew, Anya Taylor-Joy. She gives a performance that I feel comfortable saying will win a few awards this year. She is just as wonderful in her breakdown in her final episode as she is just staring at a chess board when contemplating if she should resign or continue. She is supported by a solid cast of characters which include everyone from Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who also plays Jojen Reed, to Harry Melling, most notable for his role as Dudley Dursley.
There is something about the glossy nature of the production that makes it so mesmerizing. It takes the coming of age narrative and flips it on it’s head with a Mad Men type feel. The central issue with period dramas is that they find this deep fundamental ideology in glorifying history as being elitist and inhumane. You find a deep empathy and sympathy for her because she is likeable, not because of her vices.
The story, one that is adapted by Scott Frank, who also helped write Logan, is one that adds compelling moments and deep emotion and nuance to the old story of an underdog becoming the champion. He writes Beth and her issues like a man who has faced himself. Credit must also be given to the fact that he doesn’t write the character like that of a man who finds sexual gratification in his female characters, something that some male writers are truly terrible at allowing themselves to do.
One of the things that truly captivated me was how Frank viewed the vices of this character. As a child she became addicted to tranquilizers and through growing up also found a deep proclivity for drinking. A heavy scene in the penultimate episode is one of the best acted and profoundly beautiful binge drinking exhibitions I have witnessed on the smaller screen. The people who crafted this show needed to have a deeper idea of what they were doing with this subject. As someone who has personally witnessed alcoholism and drug use I can say they managed to do a wonderful job.
I am a huge fan of Netflix work on both the big screen and small screen stages and this might be the best limited series they have ever done. If you have seven hours to kill I would highly recommend this limited series.