Review: The Queen's Gambit

Arnojya Shree explains why Anya Taylor-Joy's new series is great across the board

Arnojya Shree
4th November 2020
Over the past decade, a ridiculous amount of coming-of-age films and television shows have been released. So much so that by now, any person with an avid interest in pop culture would be dreading it. However, every once in a while, something unique comes along, which restores my faith in the topic.
Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen's Gambit, Credit: IMDb

The Queen's Gambit is set during the Cold War era and stars the very distinct and alluring Taylor-Joy as a child prodigy, Elizabeth Harmon, who is grievingly orphaned at the age of nine. Left alone by her mentally disturbed mother, Harmon discovers the game of chess being played by the janitor, Mr Shaibel, at the basement of the orphanage. After much persuasion by showing a natural talent for the game, Mr Shaibel agrees to teach her how to play, only to realise that she is not like any other chess player he has met. The story follows Harmon's persistent effort to participate in the male-dominated game and leaving behind her winning games as breadcrumbs for others to learn. But, as you have it, fate continues to test her every step of the way by forcing her to face her fears, failures and Grandmaster Borgov.

Although the show has not been promoted or marketed like the other Netflix Originals, it's definitely better than the rest. The narrative highlights the wins and errs of an orphaned girl as she grows up during the Cold War, remembering her trauma and honing her talent. The story raises the question of "is it because I'm a female?" repeatedly throughout the series. Harmon is consistently reminded that her fame is built upon her gender, something she continues to question frequently over the series. However, accepting a narrative built for her by the people is not Harmon's style as instead, she decides to make it about her talent, persistence and hard work.

Credit: IMDb, Netflix

The art design and cinematography of the show is polished and clean with a rustic colour palette, creating a perfect visual landscape for the story as we move through America and Europe during the 1960s. The music is absolutely fantastic and quite groovy, if I may say so. It would definitely have you searching for the tracks and adding them to your personal and even party playlists. The cast delivers believable performances yet Anya Taylor-Joy remains at the forefront. Much of her acting is reminiscent of her role in Emma (2020) as she brings in the charm of a girl learning the ways of the world. The rest of the cast seems to come and go out of the story space and becoming quite forgetful due to their lack of screentime. However, the performances of Henry Melling (Harry Potter, The Devil All The Time), Thomas Broadie-Sangster (The Maze Runner, Love Actually) and Bill Camp (Joker, Dark Waters) are still noteworthy in their own ways.

Absent fathers, addiction and heartbreak are just a few of the themes addressed on the limited series

The miniseries is an adaptation of a 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis. With absent fathers, drug misuse, addiction, heartbreak, challenges of being a young girl to even politics, the show attempts to cover it all. The series is a fitting example of the engagement limited series must aim for within eight to ten episodes. It makes a strong start, covers diverse grounds and refuses to take a side while highlighting the importance of female-driven narratives. Yet, towards the end, it slows down and is not able to provide the worthy ending Harmon's brilliant story deserved. Maybe it is a failure in the screenplay or the direction, but nonetheless, Anya strives to fill in the gaps and leave the audience wondering about Harmon's next move.

Credit: Netflix
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