The Queen’s Gambit is a mentally elaborate tale of how Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) grows up after being orphaned at the tender age of nine. She quickly became fascinated with chess, a game the janitor Mr. Shaibel played alone in the storage closet, and goes on to become an international champion.
The mini-series, created by Scott Frank (Logan, Minority Report) and Allan Scott (Don’t Look Now, The Witches ) from the Walter Tevis novel, captures a web of characters trying to make their way in the world of the 1960s. The theme of attaining perfection or unlocking one’s true potential may, at times, remind audiences of movies like Black Swan or A Beautiful Mind because chess does share some commonalities with ballet and math (they’re solitary pursuits that revolve around timing and patterns).
As we watch Beth take shape as a person over the course of seven cinematic episodes, we see her go from a child prodigy to a celebrated young woman in her world of expertise. Much like the story of any genius, despite all of her outward success, she is still a troubled child trying to make the best of her gifts while discovering how to use them to build a life rather than simply make a living. She encounters many opponents and allies along the way while struggling with addictions to prescription pills and alcohol; discovering that her worst enemy often looks at her in the mirror rather than from across a chessboard.
Despite constantly vying off against opponents like in boxing or fencing, chess also requires a degree of foresight as well as being able to improvise because of the way it simultaneously uses multiple parts of your brain. As Beth begins competing from American Champions to Russian Grand Masters, the true battle is within her own mind as she visualizes games brilliantly on the ceiling of whatever room she is in like she has a crystal ball.
The tasteful use of CGI in these visualization sequences creates a compelling aesthetic motif for audiences to truly dive into Beth’s gifted and twisted, but brilliant mind. The twinkling piano melodies that make up most of the score come together over the scenes like musical constellations and give the story an emotional undertow. These piano themes also set the stage for powerful string passages to sway in with subtle fury to ramp up the intensity of the chess matches. The chess scenes almost come off like fencing matches because of their finesse and intensity.
Scott Frank has woven the character and story arcs together like a Swiss watchmaker where each piece has a part to play and patiently ticks in and/or serves a greater function. The scripts for each episode piece together the puzzle of the story to create a shattering climax that doesn’t leave the audience dangling by any loose story threads.
The series reveals that genius and talent can be found in some of the most unlikely places, but the key to unlocking one’s own potential is what one does with their gifts to create a future. In the end, it’s refreshing to see Harmon’s love for the game not be diminished by her fame or notoriety.
Created by: Scott Frank, Allan Scott
Directed by: Scott Frank
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Bill Camp, Moses Ingram, Isla Johnston, Christiane Seidel, Rebecca Root, and more.
Release Date: October 23, 2020