Netflix appears to have hit upon a popular genre, young female protagonists with special powers. One is “Stranger Things” (2016–present) with a girl who has telekinetic and telepathic powers and is played by Millie Bobby Brown. Another is “I’m Not Ok with This“(2020), about a teenage girl with telekinetic powers she has trouble controlling, starring Sophia Lillis.
Now comes “The Queen’s Gambit“(October 23, 2020), the story of a girl raised in an orphanage who learns chess from a kindly janitor and has the mental powers to run through hundreds of complicated variations in her head with pieces that manifest themselves on her ceiling in hallucinations. Beth Harmon is a chess prodigy of unstoppable potential, but one with a problematic personal life.
Anya Taylor-Joy plays this role superbly. To watch her character in tournaments and speed chess competitions, you would think Taylor-Joy was an avid player. She follows all the proper chess protocols with the mannerisms of someone who has played competitive chess. The truth is, before the film, she knew nothing about the game. Not only is she a marvelous actress, but her beauty serves as a reminder of the beauty of the game.
A viewer need not be a chess player to enjoy this miniseries. The show is profound on many levels. However, chess players have an enriched perspective that leads to a deeper appreciation of the series and the author who wrote the original novel, Walter Tevis. The title means more than the obvious; a woman grandmaster in a man’s world becomes the chess world’s queen. The Queen’s Gambit is a chess opening that is exceptionally aggressive and risk-taking. It is a metaphor for Beth Harmon’s life.
The show’s climax is a chess game between Beth Harmon and the reigning world champion Vasily Borgov who opens the game with the queen’s gambit. This game’s moves come from an actual battle between two grandmasters, Ukrainian Vasyl Ivanchuk, who stares at the ceiling a lot, and American Patrick Gideon Wolff. The real game played at a tournament in Biel, Switzerland 1993, ended in a draw. I imagine the chess consultant, none other than former world champion Garry Kasparov had fun constructing a more dramatic ending to this thrilling clash. The diagram illustrates the position at the end of the show’s game. Black is doomed.
Steve Bailey is a retired middle school teacher starting a second career as a freelance writer. This is his first published review. He lives in Richmond, Virginia, where he writes fiction, creative non-fiction, and memoirs. He has a novel long manuscript in search of a publisher. His blog ishttps://vamarcopolo.blogspot.com/.