The Queen’s Gambit Dominates TV Screens through a Silent Game
Who would have known that a silent game could take over the television in just a few weeks after its debut? The Queen’s Gambit is a 2020 American, television series directed by Scott Frank. Its plot revolves around the life of an orphaned chess prodigy who grows up to be the greatest chess player the world has ever seen. Based on Walter Tevis‘ 1983 novel, the protagonist struggles as she becomes dependent on drugs and alcohol, resulting in emotional problems. The series presents how something may cause your success but may also break you down in the process. Most people of all ages and different backgrounds could resonate with that.
The story of Beth Harmon, the orphaned chess genius, started when a car crash incident took her beloved mother’s life. She was brought into an orphanage, where she first encountered the person who will fuel her desire to be the world’s greatest chess player.
Mr. Shaibel, the orphanage’s janitor, has taught her how to play chess as they wait for someone who would adopt Beth. And since it was the 1950’s, orphanages used tranquilizer pills to settle the children; this soon stimulated Beth’s addiction. The family of Alma Wheatley later adopted her from Lexington. As Beth adjusted to her new family, she began joining chess competitions and bagged the championships even with no prior background in such tournaments.
She became successful in no time because of her visualization skills that lead to her victories. But such skill was more enhanced because of the drugs that Beth resorted to. And as years passed by, she gathered friends in her field, made a name for herself, and reaps a tremendous amount of financial benefit from her success. But along with this is her emotional deterioration as she becomes more dependent on drugs and alcohol, serving as her demons.
The Queen’s Gambit is labeled “one of the best shows of 2020” by USA TODAY’s TV critic Kelly Lawler. As Beth Harmon in the series, Anya Taylor-Joy dedicated most of her time in studying the sport to portray the chess prodigy. She successfully executed her role, especially the speed chess scenes, where players are only allotted less time to consider each move. “I was thinking, ‘don’t mess this up,’ but it was the most satisfying experience. It’s genuinely, I think, one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had on set.” Anya said in The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
The series was released on October 23, 2020. It became the most-watched miniseries on Netflix. Anya Taylor-Joy’s acting and the whole production have received positive reviews from different critics and the chess community.
The series was written and directed by Scott Frank and Allan Scott with William Horberg as the executive producer. Scott has already been eyeing the novel of Walter Tevis to be on the screen since 1992. He then bought the screenplay rights from Tevis’ widow, which kickstarted the 2020 hit limited series.
Everything that you can see in the series, especially the game plays, is carefully planned by the show’s director and producer. The World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov, together with chess coach Bruce Pandolfini acted as the series’s consultants. They worked with John Paul Atkinson and Iepe Rubingh to come up with hundreds of chess positions to be used in the show’s scenes, especially in the tournaments.
They developed and enhanced some real-life games, such as the competition between grandmasters Arshak Petrosian and Vladimir Akopian. For the cast, they chose Anya Taylor-Joy to play the lead role as Beth Harmon. Other prominent actors like Bill Camp, Harry Melling, Marielle Heller, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster were cast in the starring roles. There are no regrets about casting these prominent actors and actresses since they significantly contributed to the series’ success.
The filming of the series began in August 2019, more than a year later, before it was aired in October 2020. The settings include Cambridge, Ontario, and Berlin, including the Kino International, Berlin zoo, Humana, and the Friedrichstadt-Palast. The production designer ensured that the series would illuminate the 1950’s and 1960’s vibe and aesthetic. And they did; the cinematography of the series will take you on a journey to the past where Beth Harmon battles to win in chess competitions and with her demons.
“I am both delighted and dazed by their responses,” the series’ director Scott Frank stated. Weeks after the premiere of the series, various critics have already made their final judgment. They regarded The Queen’s Gambit as one of the best series in 2020. It garnered over 62 million household watches, as reported by Netflix on November 23, 2020.
The Rotten Tomatoes, a definitive site for reviews measuring Movies and TV quality, gave an approval rating of 100% with an average rating of 8.06/10, based on 72 reviews. The culture critic, Mary McNamara, stated that many lives would have been different if there was The Queen’s Gambit 50 years ago. Bethonie Butler from The Washington Post commended the overall production of the show, especially the characterization of the show’s major black character, Jolene.
The chess community praised the general theme of this series, as they effectively portrayed the silent game of chess and its players. The British chess champion David Howell claimed that the series, especially the game plays, was perfectly choreographed and realistically portrayed. Some female professional chess players and grandmasters like Houska, Sarah Longson, Dorsa Derakhshani, and Pia Cramling agreed that The Queen’s Gambit will spark the interest of more young female chess players.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has caged most of the people within their homes, bored and with zero motivation. But a boredom-wrecker Netflix series has quenched the thirst of the people for something that will drive them to try new things.
The Queen’s Gambit notably caused a surge in the number of people becoming interested in chess. There are reports claiming that some children have become so interested in chess that they began learning it quicker than expected after watching the series. Other professional players who haven’t played for several years are now more encouraged to get back in the game.
In November, the NPR reported that chess sets are also flying off the shelves as the interest of the people in it skyrocketed. This show made a cultural phenomenon as many news fans of the game have gone to websites that teach chess lessons, games, and puzzles. Chess.com, in particular, reported that there were 3.2 million new members who joined the site after The Queen’s Gambit aired in late October. This series became a way to escape from all the stress and problems caused by the emergence of the pandemic.
This series has captured a lot of old and new fans of chess since the main theme of the series circulates around this board game. But even a professional chess player or an enthusiast may not notice some careful details embedded in the series. First, this Netflix series is from the novel of Walter Tevis in 1983 with the same name. The author of this novel reflected his personal experiences as the protagonist of the story.
He started playing chess when he was seven years old; however, he wasn’t at the same level as Beth because he was not a chess prodigy. He only competed in professional tournaments when he became older. He was diagnosed with multiple medical complications and was abandoned by his parents. He ended up in a facility where he is regularly drugged with phenobarbital three times a day. This led to the development of his alcoholism later in his adulthood. His life’s story is parallel to the concept of his novel.
Consultation of the world chess experts also brought magnificence in the creation of the series. The chess instructor Bruce Pandalfini and the former world chess champion and grandmaster, Garry Kasparov, were brought to be the consultants of the series. Kasparov was even invited to portray the role of Vasily Borgov. They made sure that the game plays were realistic and as accurately as described in the book.
Another fantastic fact about the series is that the actors actually played all the chess games in the series. In every competition, the actors memorize and play every match, even the speed rounds that need quick moves. They know every movement of the chess pieces, which saves time from committing errors and also provides a realistic, professional view.
Is the Series Based on a True Story?
The series is based on a novel that reflects the personal experiences of the author, who is a chess player himself. But it is not an adaptation of a real-life story. There are theories that resemble the life of the world-renowned chess champion Bobby Fischer. Bobby won his final American title in 1967, which is the same year that Beth wins the U.S championship in the series.
Both Bobby and Beth became chess champions during their teenage years; Bobby was 14 years old at that time, while Beth is 16 in the series. Bobby also learned how to speak Russian to make him much prepared during competitions, which likewise what Beth did when she began joining international tournaments. Both of them also saw their efforts and hard work paid off after having a major win against chess experts. Bobby defeated Russia’s Boris Spassky, while Beth in the series won over Vasily Borgov of Moscow. In terms of personality, both Bobby and Beth show the characteristics of being socially awkward and prefer being alone to hone their skills to dominate in every game.
The former New York columnist Dylan Loeb McClain commended The Queen’s Gambit for portraying the chess culture during the ’50s and ’60s. He also pointed out that some of the game plays in the series can be traced to real-life competitions. An example of this is when Beth defeats Harry in the Kentucky State title; the game is similar to the matchup that took place in Riga, Latvia, in 1955. McClain theorized that the series might not be based on a real person, but it is somehow similar, especially with that of Bobby Fischer.
Walter, the author of the novel, might have taken elements from Bobby and mixed it with her personal story, and ends up with a female protagonist in the series to make a stand about equality in the game. Because way back in the ’50s and 60’s, females were not allowed to compete in the World Chess Championship until the 1980s.
Will There Be Season 2?
The Queen’s Gambit undeniably made a hype over the quiet game, chess. Over 62 million households viewed this limited series in its first 28 days, making it the most-watched scripted series up to this date. The show also made it to the top 10 in 92 countries and ranked number 1 in 63 countries. And as its category tells us, the series is meant to be limited. But because of its success and the phenomenon it had brought, a season 2 is not actually impossible for Netflix.
However, if there will be a season two, it will move forward without the basis for the plot from the book. It is because the series was faithful to cover the whole novel, up to its very end where Beth defeated Borgov. So, part two of this series will have to jump on a new creation of its own. But this is not something to be worried about since there are already numerous existing series that have gone beyond their printed counterparts.
The characters of the series are open with the possibility of a season two but are also convinced that the story already ended in a desirable way. The portrayer of Beth, Anya Taylor-Joy, still considers playing the same role: “I adore the character, and I would certainly come back if I was asked to, but I do think we leave Beth in a good place… I think it ends in a nice place”. Also, the executive producer of the show already stated that the ending of the series was a beautiful way to wrap things up; they are still unsure whether to continue the journey of Beth or just let the viewers imagine what comes next.
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Leon Joseph is just a few years into his journalist career, but has already had pieces published in many major publications including Tech Crunch and the Game Spot. In regards to academics, Leon earned a degree in business from Texas State. Leon has passion for emerging technology and covers upcoming products and breakthroughs in the gaming industry.