Y’know what … on paper, this shouldn’t really work. I mean, it’s about chess. Now, that’s not to say that’s chess isn’t an exciting game; I watched a few matches on Channel4 a few years back, and I have to tell you it’s the most exciting and passionate commentary I’ve seen for any sport. But still … it is chess, and I while I could imagine a ninety-minute movie working, I wasn’t sure about a seven-episode mini-series.
Well, shows what I know. If anything, it was too short.
With the help of the odd flashback, we follow the colourful life of prodigy Beth Harmon – from her early years being taught chess by the surly janitor in the basement of the orphanage where she grew up, proving her genius in the male-dominated arena of competition chess, and international stardom as a master of the beautiful game (no hang on, that’s football, isn’t it).
Of course, genius has its price, and emotionally-repressed Beth, played brilliantly by Anya Taylor-Joy, is unable to deal with the loss of two mothers, her growing fame, and the demands of being at the top of the intensely competitive sport.
And of course, the drink and drug addiction doesn’t help … or maybe it does … not sure …
Anyway, the Queen’s Gambit is gripping telly from start to finish. Taylor-Joy’s portrayal of a genius the skating the edge of self-destruction is a master-class for any other actor who has to play a genius skating on the edge of self-destruction. The whole piece, set in the sixties, is stylishly shot with a worryingly familiar soundtrack to boot. The story moves at a decent clip, and for a change, I’m not going to say that it could have done with being sped up in places, which again surprises me because its a drama about chess. Nope, not a scene, not a line, not an action was wasted.
The supporting chess bums are an odd lot: Beth’s friends/lovers/teachers run the whole gamut of personality disorders, but all share this love and obsession which in many ways was an addiction as profound and tragic as Beth’s reliance on pills and alcohol.
But I think real shocker was that this series had some of the best action sequences I’d ever seen. I can’t think of many films were so much drama was conveyed by two people sitting opposite each other (okay, maybe that card game in Casino Royale where the villain’s eye starts bleeding), but this was really really intense. Great stuff.
So, yes, watch it if you can; it’s one of the best things running on Netflix at the moment. Will they make another series? Well, this was a one off apparently, but I bet people said the same thing about Rocky …