The Queen’s Gambit has got to be one of Netflix’s best miniseries to date, offering up a coming-of-age drama full of sass, determination, tension and tragedy – all into a pretty tight-knit one season.
Based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel, the show is set in the mid-1950s and takes audiences through an intimate journey into the 1960s. It follows the story of Beth Harmon, an orphaned girl with an incredible gift for playing chess; a prodigy in the making, you’ll join Beth for the ride as she navigates her way through her talents and rising fame, in the misogynistic and male-dominated world of competitive chess. Well, this, and all the while battling her emotional problems and dependency on drugs and alcohol.
One of The Queen’s Gambit’s best assets is the casting. The show gets it spot on and delivers a rich cast bursting with entrancing performances.
Anya Taylor Joy takes on the role of Beth Harmon and confirms she is indeed a force to be reckoned with. Known for The Witch (2015) and Split (2016), Joy gives her all to her newfound character, delivering one of the most spellbinding performances for a limited TV show. Beth is a young woman discovering her way in life, piloting through various tragedies, life barriers and turmoil, and Joy is able to communicate this to audiences with no less than a glazed agonising look in her eyes. Portraying a young Beth at the start of the show is Isla Johnston (Kiri), who does a fantastic job of laying the groundwork for Joy; she’s similarly endearing and takes on the hard challenge of depicting the start of her addictions with much care and melancholy.
Marielle Heller (Director of Can You Ever Forgive Me) plays Beth’s adoptive mum, Alma, a struggling housewife in a lifeless marriage. Alma initially comes across as quiet as a mouse, but soon opens Beth and herself into a whole new world of luxury and revelry when she realises what Beth’s wins can do for them. Heller hits the nail on the head with capturing Alma’s own demons beneath her sensitive and good-hearted demeanour, and she is a central piece to the completion of Beth’s character arc.
Beth’s character is surrounded by a varied group of friends, who add further meaning and excitement to the show. Thomas Brodie-Sangster is no longer the little boy from Love Actually and we can’t believe where the Sam we know has gone! Sure he was in Game of Thrones but seeing him work the charming quirky cowboy vibe was even more enjoyable. Portraying fellow chess-lover, Benny, Brodie-Sangster adds a thrilling flare to the show; he keeps Beth on her toes whilst establishing a strong emotional connection we can only wish was pursued further. Harry Melling is also the perfect addition to the series in the form of Beth’s lifeline, playing another chess fanatic and love-interest. Melling gives true likability to his character, who is full of decorum, compassion, and empathy which is pivotal to the plotline.
In her first role on TV, new comer Moses Ingram brought with her an energetic and driven attitude as Jolene, Beth’s first friend from the orphanage. Ingram is intelligent, carefree and shrugs off her many troubles as one of the eldest girls in the orphanage. Most interestingly, you could say she’s partially (and unintentionally) the reason behind Beth’s dependency on drugs, but it’s when she returns in the final episodes that her surge of energy is appreciated and enjoyed the most. Jolene and Beth have a connection based on trauma but as they’ve grown into adults, there are also noticeable similarities between the two.
For a miniseries, we could sure talk about The Queen’s Gambit for days, but let us wrap it up for you in our top 3 reasons to watch:
1. It’s a sport series like no other
We won’t pretend to understand chess, but we can now say we’ve experienced the thrill of the game! The show offers so much uncertainty, tension, drama and politics with each and every move on the board. It’s an impressive feat for a series to take on a sport which isn’t as popularly depicted.
2. A compelling cast
We all know that Anya Taylor Joy is incredible, but to see her evolve into the character of Beth is quite mesmerising. If it’s not the sheer vulnerability and distress her character is feeling, it’s the way Joy is able to transform into a confident young woman that is even more compelling. Joy flits between a broken girl into one with just one thing on her mind; determination and hunger to win. Though gifted at chess, Beth is equally gifted in making foolish decisions and allowing her demons to get the better of her; Joy is somehow able to convey the many layers of Beth with such grace and sensitivity that even when her character goes too far, she’ll still charm audiences and urge them to view her with sympathy. Joy is raw, charismatic, quirky and a whole lot of fun to watch, and we’re sure you’ll fall for her performance and root for her throughout the series.
The show’s co-stars are also incredibly talented and will pull you into the depths of the show. They each have their own mini plotlines which contribute to the overall story and Beth’s character arc, and each performance is so complex and gripping.
3. It’s creative as hell
The cinematography of the show is imaginative and incredibly artistic. There’s many shots that represent Beth’s point of view which are then mirrored with a close-up of her as she calculates and processes her thoughts or next move. The series also communicates tension and Beth’s fear of losing through contrast in lighting and shadows; there’s a distinct style and colour palette throughout which is used to amplify the storytelling. The most creative and captivating visuals though come from how the innerworkings of Beth’s mind are transformed into special effects of moving chess pieces on the ceiling. The visuals of the show all work to create a bond between Beth and the audience; if she loses a game, you’ll feel like you’re losing it too.
The production and design is also wholly immersive; straight out of the 50s and 60s, from Alma’s flamboyant decorated home to the luxurious Vegas settings. The Queen’s Gambit is visually appealing as it is interesting, and one of our favourite aspects is the costume design. As the show progresses, Beth becomes a fashion staple. Not only does Joy look the part, but there’s more than meets the eye with her costume choices; from the checkerboard patterns to the all-white attire, Beth lives, breathes and wears chess.
The Crown (2016-present)
Mad Men (2007-2015)