Netflix Television Review: Beth Harmon Learns The Game

About Netflix - From the 'Queen's Gambit' to a Record-Setting Checkmate

The Queen’s Gambit is a limited series released on Netflix a few weeks ago. It is comprised of seven episodes and was created by Scott Frank and Alan Grant. It is based on a novel by Walter Tevis. Anya Taylor-Joy plays the lead role of chess prodigy Beth Harmon. The cast includes Bill Camp, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Marielle Heller, and Rebecca Root.

Beth Harmon is an orphan who discovers an interest in the game of chess with the help of a janitor at the orphanage. Her passion and talent for the game stays with her after she is adopted and into school. Unfortunately, her taste for narcotics and alcohol also keeps its grip on her. That’s the simplest way to summarize this series. There is a lot that goes on in Beth’s journey into adulthood and notoriety in the global chess community. She also is not the most socially well-adjusted of young ladies, which also makes her a tragic and admirable character.

This is probably one of the most impressive programs I have seen in a while. Just about everything works. There is a very compelling and unusual protagonist who takes a viewer on a journey that is both tragic and triumphant. Who would have thought chess could be so exciting? I actually rather like the game but not very good at it. All of the cast appeared to be well selected. Bill Camp as Beth’s first chess mentor was quite intriguing. Mr. Shaibel is the janitor at the orphanage who first sparks Beth’s interest in the game. Brodie-Sangster at first seems to be somewhat of a questionable casting choice, but his Benny Watts really grew on me. He has the swagger of a rock star among the chess players, but there is a strong sense of decency that belies the apparent arrogance. He just gets a lot more likeable the more he is onscreen.

The high praise from the professional critics is actually well deserved. Even the moments that seemed the most predictable really did not detract much from the overall production. The series takes place mostly in 1960’s, and the era was convincingly recreated. The soundtrack was great. Anya Taylor-Joy was really the perfect choice in the lead role.

I don’t usually heap this much praise on a film or series, but there really was not much I could criticize all that harshly. Even if this was supposed to be some effort to champion an overly feminist ideology, it was done quite skillfully. I think there were enough male characters who behaved rather nobly and genuinely cared for the troubled prodigy that I didn’t mind it so much. It could also be there was a real effort to stay faithful to the novel, but I have yet to read that one, so I couldn’t say for sure one way or the other.

I would say this one was worth the time, but not necessarily for the youngsters. I may also look for the novel and see how that goes.

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