Friday, January 15, 2021

Review: The Queen's Gambit is A Boon for Chess, but it's so Much More: Read Why you Don't Need to know a thing about Chess to Understand What this show is About

By Beth Abramson Brier

The Queen’s Gambit? Check!

In the summer of 1971 Mike Turner, the heartthrob lifeguard at our swim club, taught me to play chess.  hat and the fact that I share my first name with the protagonist of The Queen’s Gambit is where, much to my disappointment, the similarities between us end.  Anya Taylor-Joy who plays Beth delivers an Emmy award worthy performance as an unexpected child chess prodigy who enters the mostly male ranks of competitive play. 

Set during the Cold War, #TheQueen’sGambit is a seven part miniseries that has become an international success as Netflix’s most watched series.  If you haven’t yet seen it because obviously you’ve been busy following the news of “Kimye’s” rumored divorce or perhaps you’ve been hiding under the covers*- start binge watching right away.  

And don’t worry that you haven’t finished or even started watching The Crown.  It wasn’t until halfway through the first episode  that I learned that The Queen’s Gambit has nothing to do with Victoria/Elizabeth/Diana/Kate/Meghan/BabyArchie, “Brexit”, or digestive biscuits.  It has everything to do with the rather unlikely subject of chess in the even more unlikely backdrop of an orphanage in Kentucky. Wait!  Don’t go back to bed.  Let me explain why chess boards are selling out faster than Gwyneth’s candles.

Let’s start with the clothes! Like Mad Men and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the mid-century wardrobe and set design are as compelling as the  storyline. Here again, I am disheartened to say that I share practically nothing with my namesake. That Beth is casually announcing “checkmate” while sporting the latest fashion with a Peter Pan collar and oversized decorative buttons.** And can we talk about the not-so-subtle symbolism of that stunning white ensemble?  Back at home she relaxes in her satin quilted bathrobe, absolutely essential for lounging about in a quintessential 1960’s suburban living room. Obviously that Beth couldn’t possibly sit at her mirrored vanity table in some old pandemic inspired schmata.

Photo Netlflix/Charlie Grayne

Even if you don’t know a rook from a pawn, you can’t help but be drawn to Beth.  Not because she is exquisite and gifted (which she is) but because she is inherently a tragic figure.  She is  alone and self-destructive.  Her adoptive mother, Alma Wheatley (Marielle Heller) is equally flawed and the line defining mother/daughter blurs and shifts. Although their relationship is punctuated with cigarettes and alcohol, I want to believe that their bond is heartfelt.  The men who watch Beth in awe and ultimately fall in love with her are just as fragile.  Benny Watts, (Thomas Brodie-Sangster***), Beth’s competition/mentor, puts on a tough exterior that she dissolves with one stare. The other men don’t even stand a chance. They blink first. 

But the real universal appeal (besides the clothes) is that, at its core, The Queen’s Gambit is a love story. A love story about passion for a game that requires no less than complete devotion. Beth falls in love with chess and men fall in love with Beth. The looks and sighs exchanges over the black and white squares are far more sensual than those exchanged over cigarettes on wrinkled sheets. But look further and TQG is really about the love of family.  Not birth family.  Not legal family.  But “Family”. Once an orphan, Beth’s unconventional "Family" never lets her down even- no-especially goodwhen she is at her lowest. No less than complete devotion.  

Long live The Queen!

*no judgement here

**in contrast, this Beth has been rocking the same Old Navy sweatpants since March.

*** Checkmate if you can place what romcom he is from

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