Taing Rinith / Khmer Times / Beth Harmon as a young girl learning to play chess with the janitor at her orphanage. Netflix
A TV series about chess may sound boring, but under the direction of a two-time Oscar-nominated director and screenwriter combined with outstanding cinematography, it has become one of the most impressive series on Netflix this year.
Based on a bildungsroman novel by American writer Walter Tevis, The Queen’s Gambit, set in the mid-1950s and early 1960s, traces chess prodigy Beth Harmon’s life from her childhood in an orphanage to her triumphant rise in the field dominated by male players.
After her parents were killed in a traffic accident, 9-year-old Harmon, a quiet and traumatised girl, had to go and live in an all-girl orphanage. Beth’s life suddenly changes when she learns how to play chess from the janitor (Bill Camp) in her orphanage’s basement. As a teen, she makes her way onto the international chess circuit, travelling the globe and beating men twice her age.
On her quest, Beth also deals with her own personal enemy – tranquiliser and alcohol addiction, which is making it hard for her to win. If she wants to get to the rank of grandmaster, she has to fight the foe inside herself first.
On its debut last week, The Queen’s Gambit jumped to the top spot on Netflix, and it would have been unusual had it not. Written and directed by Scott Frank, an Oscar nominee for his Logan script, the series is extraordinary, thanks to the outstanding cinematography. Each episode is filled with quick but artistic framing and beautiful shots.
The series’ many chess matches are made to be as exciting as any great sports film, with Olympic-level tension. It is not strange that the show is enjoyed by those who do not even play chess. Overall, “astounding” is the right word to describe the series.
Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Beth, displays amazing talent by bringing the audience close to her character’s personality. A key part of what makes the chess matches so mesmerising is the expressive faces and hand movements. She also fits into the fashions and mannerisms of the 1960s so perfectly that she may well have been born in the decade. The balance from the excellent performance of supporting characters, especially newcomer Moses Ingram, who plays Beth’s best friend from the orphanage, also stands out in many episodes.
The Queen’s Gambit definitely checkmates other Netflix series this year.
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