The Queen's Gambit an Engrossing Redemption Arc

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The Queen's Gambit

Beth Harmon (The New Mutants' Anya Taylor-Joy) is raised in an orphanage until her younger teens. While there, she and the other girls are regularly given "vitamins" which include tranquilizers, to which 9 year old Beth develops an addiction. Because she is proficient in math and gets her work done early, she is rewarded with the job of cleaning erasers in the basement, where she meets the grumpy janitor, Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), who teaches her how to play chess, a game for which she shows an amazing facility.

After being adopted by the Wheatley family at 13 -- almost in the capacity of a pet by the begrudging Mr. Wheatley for his wife, Alma (Marielle Heller) -- Beth (played at this point by Isla Johnston) finds a new supply of her needed pills from Alma's prescriptions, while also seeking out avenues for playing chess. Finding a nearby chess tournament, she gets the five dollar entry fee (no small amount of money in the early 1960s) and proceeds to climb the ranks, obliterating seasoned opponents.

When Mr. Wheatley abandons his family and leaves them nearly destitute of funds, Beth reveals to Alma the money she can make winning chess tournaments, beginning a whirlwind tour of the country, with Alma making a commission as manager.

Beth's weakness is her addiction to the pills and, later, to alcohol. She's studied the chess masters and know their games, but she's still more of an intuitive player herself, seeing the board in her head. And she believes she actually plays better when her mind is dulled by the drugs. But this proves not to be enough when she goes up against the world grandmaster, the Soviet player Vasily Borgov.

THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT makes the cerebral game of chess compelling to mass audiences, who will be drawn in to not only the competitions, but also the drama and the relationships of Beth's life. A natural outsider, Beth forms very few alliances, and those she does are understandably within the chess world, such the boy she first defeats in tournament play, Harry Beltik (Harry Melling), chess player and reporter D.L. Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd), and U.S. grandmaster (and speed chess hustler) Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, aka the voice of Ferb in Phineas and Ferb). Viewers will find themselves on the edge of their seats urging Beth to each victory, and feeling the sting of her defeats (each of which she takes personally).

Airing now on Netflix, this seven-episode series is highly recommended.

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0