Review: The Queen’s Gambit

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photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Irit Skulnik, News Editor

With only seven episodes in this limited Netflix original series, “The Queen’s Gambit” left me yearning for more. Written and directed by Scott Frank, the series depicts the compelling story of an orphan who, despite her struggle with addiction, is on a mission to become the best chess player in the world. 

Set in the Cold War era, the series starts with the protagonist Elizabeth Harmon, portrayed by Anna Taylor Joy, rushing off to a chess match after ingesting pills. The show then goes back in time to when she was a child being sent to an orphanage after her mother was killed in a car crash. 

The beginning of the show displays Harmon’s childhood in the orphanage and then transitions to her adult life in later episodes. In a coming of age style, we learn how Harmon went from playing chess with the orphanage janitor in the basement to becoming an international grandmaster. The series deals with intense themes such as battling addiction, grief, loss and depression. 

Harmon’s battle with alcoholism and tranquilizer addiction makes her a beautifully dynamic character. When she overcomes her cravings and wins a match masterfully while completely sober, it is a moment of sheer pride for the viewers. Harmon only successfully battles her addiction with the help of friends and mentors, despite her attempts to isolate herself. The show eloquently tells her story while carrying the very real message that sometimes one needs to rely on friends for support. 

The gorgeous cinematography in this series is a reason alone to watch it. The attention to detail within the costumes, scenery and setting is perfect down the very last button on her dress. I was amazed by the beautiful historical dresses and coats that Harmon sported nearly every episode. 

The cinematography excels specifically when it comes to the actual game of chess, depicting large pieces on a ceiling and montages full of play. I finished watching with a newfound respect and appreciation for the game of chess. “The Queen’s Gambit” successfully pays homage to the game and entertains viewers with knowledge of various strategies, openings and game theory. 

Another aspect that brings this series to life is the incredible acting. Taylor Joy acts with grace and poise while still bringing her very real and raw emotions to the screen. I also enjoyed the character Jolene, portrayed by Moses Ingram, who provided some hilarious comedic relief to this historical drama. 

There are many lessons to be learned from this series, but the biggest one is that chess is a team sport. Harmon could only truly succeed after training with other players and learning from mentors. This message is so sweetly shown when all of Harmon’s friends contact her before a big match and help her strategize her play. 

The limited series also depicts the struggles of being a female chess player in a male-dominated field. It was empowering to see such a young and small girl defeat so many experienced men. 

I was nervous to watch this show as I am not very familiar with chess, and at first glance, it seemed uninteresting. I was terribly mistaken. This series will capture your attention with its luxurious cinematography, witty and dramatic dialogue and well-rounded characters. I highly recommend “The Queen’s Gambit” to just about anyone. Reminiscent of old Hollywood with its charm and depth, this drama will not disappoint.