Netflix series ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ paints chess in dark light

Chess prodigy Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, engages in a match. (Fair use from adviser.wiki)

The new Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit” not only offers a deep plot and character development that leaves audiences wanting more, but its feminism-driven storyline also adds inspiration for young girls looking to get involved in the game of chess. 

The main character, Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, is a chess prodigy who decides to dedicate her life to becoming the best chess player in the world. 

Set in the 1960s, the gloomy series begins with Harmon’s mother committing suicide when she is 9, forcing her to live at an orphanage in Kentucky. There, she learns how to play the game of chess from the janitor, Mr. Shabiel. In the orphanage, she’s also given tranquilizer pills to keep her calm, and she quickly becomes an addict, as their relaxing and hallucinogenic properties allow Harmon to visualize a chess game in her head. 

After being adopted in her teens, Harmon began attending chess tournaments to make money and quickly rises to fame, winning every match she plays in. Along with her rise to fame, she gains valuable friendships with her colleagues and develops a love interest for the character Benny Watts, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, a chess master.

The main conflicts in the show are both Harmon’s chess career and her struggle with addiction. Due to her childhood trauma and need to calm her mind during matches, her addiction to tranquilizer pills leads to much more severe addictions to other drugs later in life due to her tendency to self-medicate. The constant struggle between Harmon’s health and her need to win makes for a thrilling and interesting plot for audiences, and the show packs in as much action and plot as a seven-episode limited series can offer. There is never a moment without some sort of tension. 

Not only is the show exciting to watch, but the character relationships are also captivating. Harmon develops a strong bond with her adoptive mother, Alma Wheatley, played by Marielle Heller. Their relationship is refreshing and enjoyable because it replaces the relationship Harmon would have had with her real mother. Both characters struggle with addiction, but Wheatley finds joy in helping Harmon achieve her dreams in chess. Her relationship with her adoptive mother is a crucial part to her character and her development to keep viewers interested.

The character relationship between Harmon and Watts is another interesting aspect of the plot that keeps viewers constantly entertained. It is refreshing to see Harmon take time to focus on her social life instead of always being immersed in her work. Her friendship with and interest for Watts is compelling because it breaks up the scenes about the complex world of chess with relatable content.

The acting and wardrobe also draws viewers in and adds to the shows plot. The acting in the show is very convincing and the actors are able to perfectly portray all aspects of their characters. The wardrobe is very accurate for the time period, and I enjoyed that. While it was not a main focus, it was still properly developed and aided the realism in the show. 

While the story’s plot and characters provide an exciting seven hours worth of content, the show also offers inspiration for young girls interested in the game of chess. Harmon is constantly doubted and is viewed as a constant underdog by the male characters. However, her rise to fame and success can be an inspiration for girls wanting to get into the male-dominated world of chess. 

“The Queen’s Gambit” offers a dark and intriguing look into the 1960s world of chess and is definitely worth the watch.