Clear your weekend schedule, because Netflix’s new limited series The Queen’s Gambit will suck you with its unsettling twists and turns and not let go. You will need to finish it immediately.
The Queen’s Gambit follows Beth Harmon (played by both Peaky Blinders‘ Anya Taylor-Joy and young actress Isla Johnston), a chess prodigy and oddball genius who is plonked in an orphanage after a car crash kills her mother.
Assisted by both the orphanage’s custodian Mr. Shaibel (character actor Bill Camp) and a growing addiction to the tranquillisers fed to the wards daily, Beth first discovers the game of chess, and then, that she’s really, really good at it.
To say anymore is to spoil it – even in episode one – but let’s just say that Beth’s chess talent does not go unnoticed. In the opening scene, we see an adult Beth face a room full of press cameras before sitting down to a professional chess game, so that’s not really a spoiler, either. But bloody hell you want to keep watching, just to find out how she got there. It’s a series where no one can be trusted and the ground might be pulled out from underneath you at any turn.
Also: Dudley Dursley (a.k.a. Harry Melling) is in it. WHAT.
The Queen’s Gambit is based on a famous short story by Walter Tevi, whose other works were adapted into The Hustler, The Man Who Fell to Earth and The Color of Money. Note to self: read Walter Tevi, he’s clearly on to something.
The limited series has been called “one of the best shows of 2020” and currently has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but the real good shit is from Chess Base Magazine, which called it “the best chess-related movie or series to grace the screen”. Managing to make the considerable about of chess in this series appealing to non-chess players without pissing off the enthusiasts? Huge.
As it turns out, the producers tapped two of the best chess minds in the world to make every single game legit: chess coach Bruce Pandolfini (a USCF national master, and considered to be one of the most experienced teachers in the world), and Garry Kasparov (a Russian chess grandmaster and former World Chess Champion).
It’s what makes this so damn watchable: you get the thrill of watching masters plot out their moves to a checkmate five steps ahead, and also this niggling feeling that you, too, could thrash your grandad in a game. Spoiler: you probably can’t. It is the way of grandads.
The Queen’s Gambit is streaming right now on Netflix.