The Queen’s Gambit: Netflix’s risky move pays off


Joshua Todd

The Queen’s Gambit is hands down the best show of 2020.

by Joshua Todd, Editor

Netflix’s new release of The Queen’s Gambit is positively flawless. Audiences all over the world are raving about the 7 episode mini-series, and there’s a good reason why. The show has something that every viewer will love. It is gritty, gloomy, elegant and beautiful. It has loss and heartbreak, but also friendship and romance. It has drama and intense situations, yet also has comedic and light-hearted scenes. The show showcases what is ordinarily a boring game so expertly that there is a resurgence of interest in chess.  The historical look at chess tournaments in the 1960’s is making television history today.

The show follows the story of Elizabeth Harmon, (portrayed by Emma star Anya Taylor-Joy), an orphan from a dysfunctional household who is a chess prodigy. As the show progresses, we follow Beth’s journey through childhood into adulthood and watch as she grows from an unranked player in an orphanage basement to World Champion. It is based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis.

I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d like the show. Looking at the trailers, I didn’t really see anything that grabbed my attention. I thought it looked as if it would be  just a dull and gritty drama about a dull game that no one really thinks too much about.

I was very wrong.  Who would have guessed that chess is so sexy?

This show encapsulated everything I could possibly love about a TV show. Its virtuoso set design, costuming, cinematography, and acting absolutely destroyed my expectations. As I watched this show, it quickly became one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

Viewers can absolutely fall in love with the set design of this show, done by Uli Hasnich. The sets are transcendentally fabulous, with the elegance of each prop and location perfectly representing the vibe that each scene is presenting.

In Episode One, Beth is in Kentucky in the late 1950’s. The show perfectly represents the darkness and trauma that Beth is going through during this period, with dark lighting, coarse texturing, and an overall gloomy and depressing atmosphere. The abundance of religious imagery acts as a zealot amongst the young girls which is contrasted with the desolate and vulgar nature of the girls themselves.

As Beth is eventually adopted and brought home, however, the set switches to a bright and airy atmosphere, with patterned wallpapering, furniture, and props. The overall vibe the scenery gives off is that of a perfect household in the 1960’s, one ripe with nostalgia and simplistic beauty. It perfectly matches the transition that Beth has, leaving the orphanage and going on to a much better life (maybe).

The show continues to do this, altering sets around, and showcasing the highest class that could be given with Beth’s future successes. When Beth travels around from star-hotel to star-hotel, the show grandly emphasizes the cultural beauty with the elegance and divine detailing of each country and location. As she travels in Mexico, the area is colorful and bright, and filled with a dreamy and comfortable design. The stained glass windows of the hotel Beth stays at are stunning, and a perfect representation of the overall nature of the location she’s in.

As she travels in Paris, the area is filled with lush architecture, and an undeniable sense of wealth and vernacular that is different from everywhere else. The pastel and metallic colors of Beth’s hotel room show the overall richness of the area, with heavy emphasis on just how successful and powerful she has become.

As her life eventually spirals into more depression, her world around her shifts–from exquisite to shattered. The idyllic home she grew up in becomes dysfunctional and dizzying as she tries to drink away her problems. The house has a darker color scheme, as Beth closes the blinds, and flies into a depressed frenzy. The bright and vibrant colors the audience saw before has a much more muted theme. The wallpaper and lighting of her home have lost such happiness and hope she had before. No longer is this place Beth’s space to feel accepted or safe.

When her old friend Jolene (portrayed by Moses Ingram) comes back into her life, the palette becomes muted and eventually shifts back to a more refined and elegant manner it used to be. 

As the episodes advance, many years do as well. This is perfectly seen in how the designs change through time: with the earlier years of the 1960’s being seen as very homey and delicate, to the later years being more reinvented and modern. It’s a great way to show a progression of time.

Nothing shows an even greater progression of time than the costuming, though, (done by Gabriele Binder.) The 1960’s was an extremely pivotal time of change for fashion: going from “The New Look” figure by Christian Dior of the 1950’s, to the edgy rock vibes of the 1970’s. This show is one of the best representations of this change, due to its subtlety and severity.

Early in the show we see the main characters wearing dresses and suits, a typical look for the era. As each episode passes, and each year with it, these dresses and suits slowly turn into high class pantsuits and much more casual and less form fitting wear. It isn’t something that you really see switch on the main cast, but each background character goes through this process. 

For instance, in Beth’s high school, the characters wear poofy dresses and have such a classy vibe to them, with muted and pastel colors to show off the sleek and sophisticated style of the time. As Beth travels in later episodes, specifically to Las Vegas, the background characters clothes have changed. A specific woman Beth casually walks by in the area, is a perfect encapsulation of the switch of times and fashions. The woman is wearing a short and non form-fitting black and white striped dress, with a large and straight up-do. If you watch the show just for the fashion, you won’t be disappointed.

Anya Taylor-Joy portrays Beth for the majority of the series (except for the child Beth in Episode 1). In the time of her portrayal, Beth ages from 15 to her early 20’s. A 15 and 20 year old look incredibly different from one another, and somehow this show makes this age change believable. In the first episodes of young Beth, she looks scrawny and unsure of herself. All she really cares about in life is chess, and doesn’t focus on her outward appearance. As she gets older though, she becomes much more secure in her sense of self, and love of fashion. This is seen as she slowly starts to grow out and style her hair, put on more makeup, and wear more stylish clothes. 

When her life slowly falls apart, however, it’s visible that she begins to lose her sense of self, with much baggier clothes, and more dramatic makeup choices. Specifically, one time when Beth was drunk and spiraling, she puts on this bombastic orange lip gloss with a dark eyelined cat eye. It looks so foreign on her and is a great way to show how she’s losing her sense of self. As she slowly gets her life back on track, though, her style becomes more refined, and shows her much more comfortable with where she is. 

Most times when older actors are to portray a younger version of themselves, it looks tacky and fake. But this show does it differently. It appears as if Beth has aged seven years in the span of seven episodes.

The absolutely stellar performances from Beth, Jolene, Alma (Marielle Heller), Benny (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and Harry (Harry Melling) is what really sells the beauty of this show. After all, costumes and sets are just voids that actors put emotion and reality into. Never before have I seen such talent and grace with acting; so much so that I cannot see these characters outside of themselves as actors. The actors are so in line with who they play that it’s impossible to conceptualize them as someone else. 

I personally love the acting from Beth, Jolene, and Alma. Each of these characters gives a ravishing performance that envelopes you into the world they are living. And with the stunning and ingenious script, written by Scott Frank and Allan Scott, these performances are even more incredible. Everything each character says is so tactile and perfectly placed, it’s hard to describe in words the awe it has. It simply pulls the audience into this world that is so real and viable, and that’s something not many shows can do.

I mean, they’ve managed to make chess interesting. That’s a feat that I never thought any show could do.

The way the show goes about showing the different intricate chess moves, and different aspects of the chess world is so intriguing and is something that makes it separate from every other show I’ve seen. From Beth going over the intricate plays on how she would win and dominate her competition, (like the Cicilian Defense and the Queen’s Gambit), to the different ways of playing chess, (like playing a simultaneous competition or playing speed chess), I feel I’ve learned and seen so much about the perplexing game that I had no intention of ever learning about.

To be fair, I really had no clue what was happening on the chess board, and I imagine many audience members were right there along with me. But seeing the facial reactions and emotional vendettas the characters would go through as each piece was moved sent shock waves down my spine. It showcased how ruthless and brutal the game is, and how absolutely calculated it has to be in order to persevere.

Honestly, looking in depth at this show has revealed absolutely no weaknesses in its plot or writing.

It’s not only me who formulated this opinion of the show. Reviews have shown great success, from critics and viewers alike. The show hasn’t left Netflix’s Top 10 list since its release. People absolutely cannot get enough of it. Particularly, looking at Rotten Tomatoes, the show has an audience score of 98%, and a critical score of 100%. Yes, that’s right, 100%. This show is only 1 out of 11 shows to ever receive this accomplishment, and it is fully deserved.

I’m absolutely obsessed with this show, and will be re-watching it with every opportunity I have. You can view The Queen’s Gambit now on Netflix, with a valid membership. I highly recommend it.