Queen’s Gambit is a Netflix limited series that focuses on the life of an orphaned girl who happens to also be a chess prodigy. The series spans from her childhood all the way to her adult years. The Queen’s Gambit is a fictional story that narrates the life of Beth Harmon, a girl who had lost both her parent in two isolated incidents. The series documents her emotional struggles from the age of 8 to 24 as she attempts to become the world’s greatest chess player whilst battling addiction along the way. This limited series is rated 18+ as it contains mature themes in moderation and contains minor racial slurs appropriate with the setting of the story which takes place in 1950-1960s.
This limited series tackles the struggles of a young girl making it big in an unknown industry. She was born in a time when only men played chess and the typical stereotypes of a woman was still blooming. Besides facing the hardships of a gender barrier she also had to overcome the trauma of her childhood. Having gone through and lost a lot at a young age, Beth Harmon was seen as someone who was stone cold and lifeless at times. Her overall personality through the series was very hard to read as her emotions seems to portray far more than her actions.
The plot of the story also revolved around the thrill of chess and this is something that is very rarely portrayed in the media. The story may be about Beth Harmon but she is more of the side character of the game itself as it is clearly depicted that chess is the one in control of the characters in this series. The beauty of the game encapsulates these unique individuals and acts as the glue that holds their lives together. Along the storyline many new characters are introduced but one thing stays the same and that is the pieces on the board and also the burning passion the players have towards the game.
A Traumatizing Childhood
Going back to the initial point regarding her childhood, it can be said that Beth Harmon was in fact traumatized at a very young age having been basically brought up by her mother as her father had left early on in her life. She also remembers glimpses of her past where her father had insisted on staying but unfortunately the proposal was denied by her mother who was depicted to be emotionally unstable. At times during an episode it would cut to the memories of her past showing snippets of what life was like with her mother.
This however gave little to no overall meaning for the plot and they were just parts of the puzzle that the viewers had to piece together. After getting the full picture it can be said that her mother was an independent woman who did not enjoy being told what to do. However the unwillingness of wanting help ultimately led her to her own demise. Beth Harmon was orphaned after her mother had killed herself in a car crash that should have taken her life as well and at times those flashbacks implied that maybe Beth too had wished she had never survived that day.
Beth is later taken to an orphanage after this traumatic event and is forced to live a conservative life. She was prepped up to be the ideal pick for parents who wanted the pristine girl to bring home. At this orphanage the kids were also given tranquilizers to keep them compliant, but the drawback was that Beth had become addicted to them at a very young age. These pills would later come back to haunt her years down the road but for now she feels that they end up defining her. During her time at the orphanage, she meets Mr. Shaibel and he is the one who ends up teaching her the game of chess.
Time to Play
Playing the first game was obviously not easy as Shaibel was not going to allow some random girl to play against him. Instead the reason she got to play was because she had proved to him that she was serious and that she knew roughly what she was doing. Beth had the ability to study the board and understand the concept of the game without even physically playing it. She would instead take the pills at night and play the games by visualizing them on the ceiling.
Mr. Shaibel would later teach her more complex moves and strategies which she would pick up easily over time. She was approached by the head of a chess club who wanted her to play at the high school. This dream became a reality and Beth Harmon was soon playing boys who were nearly twice her age and beating them at simultaneous matches. This was what caused her to have an addiction towards the game, she mentioned in one of the episodes how she had never won before and that she enjoyed the feeling.
However, before her chess career could really take off, she was being adopted by who would end up to be her brand new family. She was still madly in love with chess but at the same time a new chapter of her life was about to open up. She was nearing her teenage years and the adoption could go either way for her but she had her fingers crossed that it would be for the better. She soon left her best friend and headed off to start her new life. Her life after adoption is riddled with complications but the notable fact is that she is struggling to cope without the game she dearly loves.
Encapsulated by Chess
Chess as a game is beautiful and many people love it for their own unique reasons. Some see it as a show of power and dominance but for some its a matter of watching the pieces dance on the board. No matter the reason, this game has controlled the lives of many in their endless pursuit to play all possible games and play the most outlandish moves to snatch a victory. This same love is shared with Beth Harmon as she puts it that the board is a world that she feels comfortable of and it’s a space in which she can control and see the future outcomes.
This limited series manages to keep chess enthusiasts interested as they showcase some timeless games such as
- Nezhmedtinov vs. Kasparian (1995)
- Susano Megaranto vs Leinier Domínguez Pérez (2006)
- Petrosian-Akopian (1980s)
The characters in this movie are also heavily influenced by real life Grandmasters such as Boris Spassky who is known as Vasily Borgov in the series. This mild obessesion towards the game is what had shaped these characters lives and it is very visual when seeing the life of Harry Beltik or even Benny Watts. Both of them had incredible careers in chess yet they also have an unrivaled passion for the sport and its evident from the way Beltik speaks of the game. Even though he later transitions his life away from the game, it is obvious that he will never forgot that part of his life.
The Queen’s Gambit itself is a chess opening payed by many and grew in popularity, reaching its zenith in the 1920s and 1930s, and it was played in all but two of 34 games in the 1927 World Championship match between José Raúl Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine. The episodes are also named after phases of the chess game and it corelates perfectly with the plot in each episode. This is definitely an easy watch for anyone with even the mildest enthusiasm towards the game and it is a good representation of what goes on in the mind of a player.
The Queen’s Gambit also tackles the issue of addiction which also happens to play a huge role in this miniseries. Beth faced various issues with addiction ever since she was a child as she was introduced pretty early on to tranquillizers. She was also under the impression that the only reason she was good at the game was due to the pills. However many years would pass until the next pill hit her lips as the government had later banned the use of tranquillizers on kids. She faced withdrawal but had slowly overcame the problem.
After being adopted, her life becomes a train wreck once more when she realizes that her adoptive mother is also an alcoholic who abuses drugs from time to time. This is when Beth spiraled down the rabbit hole of alcoholism having been exposed to it during her teenage years. She would later fake prescriptions just so she could take her pills. This euphoria of drugs, alcohol and men would later become a living nightmare for her as she ultimately hates her life and just wants to live high. She would in some cases smoke her worries off and not care about the consequences of her actions.
Her friends however stayed by her side and did their best to get her out of that mindset. Townes and Jolene played a huge role in telling her to stop wallowing in self pity and start believing in her own abilities. Harry Beltik would be the first to openly recognize that she had a drug addiction and would later confront her of the problem she was facing. Benny Watts on the other hand put a stop to her drinking while they lived together for a short portion of time in New York. All of her friends made the conscious decision to lead her back to the right path so she could start fresh and live a better life.
This limited series has already been trending worldwide and it’s safe to say that it’s for good reason. The setting of the series for one is phenomenal and the attention to detail is absolutely admirable. The costume design really made it feel one with the times and the overall atmosphere just teleports the viewers back to the 1950’s. Overall the story was well written and each of the characters had their own depth as well as emotional baggage. It was rich in realism and the storytelling was extremely blunt with no sugarcoating whatsoever.
It is a winner amongst those who play chess but it definitely isn’t just a niche show that caters for players. This story will resonate with almost anyone with the thirst for success and it also puts a price on that success. It has been considered one of the best series of this year and has received an 8.9/10 on IMDB and a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes so clearly the series has done something right that allowed such a huge engagement with the public.