Binge and Repeat: Anya Taylor-Joy bests the competition in Netflix drama ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

Chess stars in the forefront of Netflix’s new limited series alongside Anya Taylor-Joy of “Peaky Blinders” and “Emma” fame.

“The Queen’s Gambit” is based on the novel by Walter Trevis that tells the story of a fictional young chess prodigy who goes from humble beginnings to become a prominent figure in the chess world during the 1960s.

Having known absolutely nothing about chess prior to watching this series, the drama itself is gripping even though a large portion of the series revolves around characters playing chess.

Beth Harmon didn’t have an ideal childhood. After surviving the accident that killed her mother, young Beth is shipped off to an orphanage that used tranquilizers to drug the children there. While living at the orphanage, Beth strikes up an unlikely friendship with the curmudgeonly janitor who teaches her to play chess. Beth quickly becomes fascinated with the game and goes on to gain a bit of attention for her chess acumen locally until the orphanage heads ban her from playing after the child tried to steal a massive jar of tranquilizers. While life in the orphanage isn’t easy, young Beth survives it by cracking jokes with her best friend Jolene, played by Moses Ingram who deserves more screen time then her character received. Once Beth is adopted as a teenager, she quickly dives into the competitive world of chess and rises through the ranks with ease. While Beth’s story isn’t without its challenges or perils as she repeatedly abuses pills and alcohol to try to gain a competitive edge while also dulling the pains of her childhood trauma, it is certainly intriguing.

Beth herself raises the complaint that her chess stardom is partially related to her gender and that people find her playing to be impressive because she’s a woman competing primarily against men. Throughout the series Beth finds herself unable to beat Russia’s reigning chess champ and every loss against him beats her down even though she earns plenty of other victories.

Taylor-Joy provides a spectacular performance as Beth as she brings a decade’s worth of the character’s life to the screen with ease. Taylor-Joy plays the awkward teen and glamorous champion without missing a step and shines as the camera zeroes in on Beth’s floundering moments. Her emotive eyes allow viewers to track Beth’s every thought throughout the competitions with a simple furrowing of the brow or a flustered sigh. Harry Melling as Harry Beltik and Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny Watts add color to the chess world and also act as voices of reason when Beth is ready to pitch herself into a bottle. Marielle Heller adds a splash of panache as Beth’s adopted mother, Alma, who faces mental health issues.

I would be remiss not to comment on the brilliant costuming choices used to present Beth’s personal growth and mental status throughout the series.

The Queen’s Gambit

Seasons: One

Episodes: Seven

Episode length: One hour

TV rating: TV-MA

Language: English/Russian

Similar series: The Crown

Overall “The Queen’s Gambit” is a captivating series that takes the quiet game of chess and spotlights the ferociously competitive nature of the game.

“The Queen’s Gambit” has one season available on Netflix and the series is rated TV-MA. Fans looking for more period dramas might also enjoy “The Crown,” which follows Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. The series is also available on Netflix.