“The Queen’s Gambit” captures a great story but blunders in other aspects

Noah Grabianski, A&E Editor

Netflix’s new original series, “The Queen’s Gambit,” has recently set a record as the most-watched scripted limited series, totaling over 62 million views within its first month of release. “The Queen’s Gambit,” based upon the 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, tells the story of Elizabeth Harmon, a female chess prodigy growing up in the 1960s. 

Recently orphaned, young Elizabeth “Beth” Harmon must adapt to new life in an orphanage. Here she befriends basement-dwelling janitor Mr. Shaibel, who begins to teach her how to play chess. At the same time, she is forced to take pills to “even out her disposition.” One of these, which she is recommended by a fellow orphan to take late at night, allows her to visualize entire games of chess, using her memory to become a chess prodigy of astounding talent. As she grows up and gets new opportunities in the chess world, she meets a series of other players who help her skyrocket to fame.

“The Queen’s Gambit” pulls no punches and takes a deep dive into the troubled character of Beth Harmon. We watch as she goes through puberty, experiences life as a young woman in the turbulent 1960s, and faces addiction. The show highlights Beth’s contrast between herself and typical girls her age. While girls her age experience teenage romance and are rushed into marriage, Beth stays on her own, making money through chess. Her isolation furthers her addiction to her pills and alcohol, and her spiral is on full display. The complexities of it all make the show an ever more interesting character study of sorts.

The series starts out a little rocky due to a mix of less-than-stellar scripting and acting. However, Anya Taylor-Joy delivers a fantastic performance as Harmon throughout the series, along with a strong supporting cast consisting of Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Harry Melling and a couple appearances from Isla Johnston as a young Beth. However, some of the characters seem miscast, such as Marielle Heller as Beth’s adoptive mother, Alma. While her acting isn’t necessarily bad, she seems to show more of her character’s nervous, shy side instead of her strong, confident side. However, the acting isn’t the best part of the show, as “The Queen’s Gambit” boasts pretty incredible cinematography by Steven Meizler and directing by Scott Frank. It is truly a series that gets better as it progresses, concluding with a fantastic final episode that combines elements from the whole of the show and leaves you with a smile on your face. 

The popularity of “The Queen’s Gambit” has also led to a bit of a resurgence in chess, as viewers get a look at the glamorous chess world. This is quite surprising, as the show offers very little in terms of chess education, especially for those who have never played a game before. Nevertheless, the show doesn’t fail in making chess seem like a fun, if not incredibly complex, game to learn. 

At a total of seven episodes and a run time of just under seven hours, “The Queen’s Gambit” is an interesting and quick watch that has its moments of brilliance. And because of its status as a limited series, no new episodes will not be released. I’d definitely recommend this show to everyone, and even if you start and don’t enjoy it, keep watching. You might enjoy it more than you’d think.