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General Oct 23, 2020 | 7:00 AMby Colin McGourty

The Queen’s Gambit is out on Netflix

Anya Taylor-Joy stars as Beth Harmon, a female Bobby Fischer battling addictions to top the chess world in Cold War America, in the 7-part The Queen's Gambit out now on Netflix. The adaptation of Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel by Godless director Scott Frank features games selected by Bruce Pandolfini, while none other than Garry Kasparov acted as a consultant. The 13th World Chess Champion told The New York Times, “it is as close as possible to the authentic atmosphere of chess tournaments”.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy in 1960s America | screenshot: Netflix/YouTube

When keen amateur chess player Walter Tevis’ The Queen’s Gambit was published in 1983 there were immediate plans to turn the novel into a film, but Walter died of lung cancer a year later, at the age of just 56. Other projects also fell through, but now the story is being retold in a 7-episode series released today on Netflix.

You can check out the trailers below:

The Queen’s Gambit follows Beth Harmon – a 9-year-old orphan given tranquilisers after a car crash that killed her mother – as she discovers chess and begins to climb to the top in the America of the late 1950s and 1960s. As you can see from the trailer, alcohol is another demon she has to fight, while of course Russian opponents loom large.

Early reviews have mentioned the action being dragged out a little too long with some repetitive plot elements, but have still been largely positive, finding plenty to praise. Caroline Framke mentions the difficulty of portraying a game like chess on screen, before writing in Variety:

But “The Queen’s Gambit” manages to personalize the game and its players thanks to clever storytelling and, in Anya Taylor-Joy, a lead actor so magnetic that when she stares down the camera lens, her flinty glare threatens to cut right through it.

Brian Lowry for CNN also praises the lead actress:

If Anya Taylor-Joy is on the cusp of major stardom -- with a "Mad Max" prequel in her future, and "The New Mutants" and "Emma" in her recent past -- "The Queen's Gambit" should advance her several moves ahead. The tale of a troubled chess prodigy, Taylor-Joy's magnetic presence is enough reason to watch this handsome Netflix limited series, even if the seven-part production gets dragged out about three episodes too long.

Judy Berman writes in Time:

Watching one of the year’s most fascinating TV characters ascend to the mid-century chess firmament, you believe her.

Chess fans, of course, usually struggle to believe the chess in movies and TV series, but in that regard there’s cause for hope. Bruce Pandolfini, of Searching for Bobby Fischer fame, was consulted for the original novel, but in a cover story to be published in the November issue of Chess Life reveals: 

Sometime after the novel was published in 1983, I read it again. I was dumbstruck. Except for a few trivial changes, I couldn't find a single one of my major suggestions. Walter had given me a nice credit in his acknowledgements. Yet the only thing I really did for the book was to come up with the final title.

The November issue of the US Chess Federation's Chess Life magazine features 11 pages on "The Queen's Gambit"

This time Bruce, now in his 70s, was deeply involved in providing games and positions for the Netflix adaptation, while the other chess consultant was a certain Garry Kasparov. The 13th World Champion knows how hard it is for a TV series to portray the atmosphere of a chess tournament, “but trust me, this is as close as one can have it,” he’s quoted as saying by Alexis Soloski for The New York Times

Garry went as far as to suggest dialogue, including a line by a fellow grandmaster, “She’s like us - losing is not an option for her.” Magnus Carlsen once said something very similar, while Garry sees something of himself in Beth Harmon:

Chess is her language, she lives for the game. And that’s how I played.

Have you watched the series yet? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!

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