The Queen’s Gambit centres around child chess prodigy Beth and, yes, the main star of this is Anya Taylor-Joy (Split), but in the first episode, she appears only at the start in a brief scene set in Paris, 1967, before it goes back in time to set the scene.
After being the sole survivor of a horrific car crash in which her mother, Alice Harmon (Chloe Pirrie), passed away, young Beth (Isla Johnston), aged 9, is living in an orphanage where the kids all have to take daily pills and drink a specific green liquid, all dished out like tablet time in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Losing direction in her formative years, and after being disruptive in class and being sent down to the basement to clap blackboard erasers together, she spots the janitor, Mr Shiabel (Bill Camp), down there who’s into chess, and leading to her eschewing dolls for the board game.
This leads to saving up and taking so many tablets at once which makes her look like some sort of autistic savant as she controls the game in her mind that’s playing out in a vision, upside down, on the ceiling at bedtime.
Of all the different moves she learns, one is the titular Queen’s Gambit, a particular opening move. Plus, she discovers what each of the squares is named, such as KB3 for King’s Bishop 3, and without giving spoilers, it’s safe to say that by the end of the first episode, she’s become so talented that she’s not just playing one game at a time…
Although The Queen’s Gambit goes more for drama than it does in showing us every move of every game played (because it doesn’t do that), it did remind me when I used to be gripped as a kid in the ’80s with the BBC1 morning TV series, Play Chess: 25 minutes of games being played (above), similar to when BBC2 used to do the same for snooker with Pot Black. It’s a shame they don’t make room for chess again in the schedules, since they just have endless repeats of the same old junk.
In episode 2, Beth is adopted by a family with a well-meaning matriarch – Alma Wheatley (Marielle Heller), but the husband – Allston Wheatley (Patrick Kennedy) is rather grumpy.
This is a bit slow to get going, but when Beth is in full flow in the chess championship, that’s when it’s at its best. Makes me want to play chess again, too.
Like I said, at this point, I’ve only seen two episodes, but I will ‘check’ more out soon…
The Queen’s Gambit is on Netflix from Friday October 23rd, but is not available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD.
Episodes 1 and 2 Score: 7/10
Director: Scott Frank
Producers: Marcus Loges, Mick Aniceto,
Writer: Scott Frank
Creators: Scott Frank, Allan Scott
Novel: Walter Tevis
Music: Carlos Rafael Rivera
Beth Harmon: Anya Taylor-Joy
Young Beth Harmon: Isla Johnston
Mr Shiabel: Bill Camp
Jolene: Moses Ingram
Helen Deardorff: Christiane Seidel
Miss Lonsdale: Rebecca Root
Alma Wheatley: Marielle Heller
Allston Wheatley: Patrick Kennedy
Alice Harmon: Chloe Pirrie
Mr. Fergusson: Akemnji Noifornyen
Miss Graham: Sophie McShera
Mary-Sue: Jennifer Haas
Mr Espero: Marian Meder
Mr Hume: Ben Moor
Girl in line: Dora Zygouri
Beth (age 5): Annabeth Kelly
Beth’s father: Sergio Di Zio
Mr Ganz: Jonjo O’Neill
Local makeout girl: Josepha Walter
Local makeout boy: Marc Bergemann
Shirley Munson: Maddie Holliday
Charles Levy: Alexander Berdickevsky
Samantha: Nelly Russakowa
Harry Beltik: Harry Melling
Mrs. Borgov: Janina Elkin
Vasily Borgov: Marcin Dorocinski
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.