FIB TV Talk: The Queen’s Gambit

After a record breaking opening and a stellar reaction from audiences and critics alike, The Queen’s Gambit has emerged as Netflix’s knight in shining armour for the holiday season. A period piece dealing with the inner workings of a genius and an addict in a capacity that hasn’t been seen enough, it’s the best 7 hours you’ll spend this Christmas.

Beth takes on an opponent | Photo Credit Netflix


While it’s not exactly filled with Yuletide spirit, and should (probably) not be watched with your family in the room, The Queen’s Gambit is one of the most pleasant rag-to-riches stories to come in the age of the streamer. 

Those rags come in the form of a young orphan named Elizabeth Harmon, or “Beth” as she prefers to be called. After she is admitted to an orphanage following the tragic death of her mother, she is immediately recognised as gifted in the classroom, and when being sent to clean the erasers after finishing her work early, discovers the janitor playing chess in the basement. 

From there, the story along with Beth transforms into a tale of attrition, triumph, discovery and addiction. That addiction is one of the main components of the show. Hooked as a child to the tranquilizers mandated to the children of the orphanage, she uses them to focus while playing chess as well as studying the game late at night. 

The older she gets, the more ways she finds to support her habits until she’s to the edge of spiraling into oblivion. This show has it’s darkness, but it’s light is what makes it so appealing. So appealing in fact, on November 23, it was announced that the series had been watched by 62 million households since its release becoming Netflix’s biggest scripted limited series to date.

The chess tournaments are why you’ll come, but it’s the people that’ll make you stay. The cast of characters here feels nothing short of family, as they do to Beth, by the time the show ends. There’s Benny, the leather-bound narcissist and US Champion played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster; Harry Beltik, former Kentucky State Champion played by Harry Melling; Beth’s adoptive mother Alma Wheatley played by Marielle Heller; and the machine that is reigning World Champion, Russian Grandmaster Borgov played by Marcin Dorociński. 


Anya Taylor-Joy is wonderful as Beth Harmon | Photo Credit Netflix


Saving the best for last, Beth herself is played by the wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy. She gives a performance here that fully showcases the range that we all saw was possible in cult thrillers like Split and The VVitch. Her ability to understand the material and translate an emotion to the audience is uncanny, and something that will leave you feeling nothing but excitement to see her tackle bigger roles in Hollywood and explore the raw talent that is on display for the entirety of the series. Ilsa Johnston plays the younger Beth, and she gives a performance to be remembered and sets a benchmark for all child actors in Hollywood.

Created by Allan Scott and Scott Frank, and based on Walter Tevis’ novel of the same, Frank serves as the writer and director every episode of the show. His research, knowledge and ability to adapt is integral to the success of the show’s production elements, including the immaculate costume design and production design. 

Beth and the people around her are constantly dressed in checked clothes that resemble the boards used in chess, and you can’t even begin to talk about the get-up worn by Benny in the show. The period accurate set design is one of the most awe-inspiring aspects of the entire production. Whether we are in Mexico, Vegas, Paris or Kentucky, everything looks and feels like how the 60’s would have felt to a middle class orphan; big, bright and daunting.


Harmon v Borgov in Mexico | Photo Credit Netflix


The Queen’s Gambit has been praised by chess players worldwide for its accuracy and the way it captures the emotions of playing chess. Former World Champion Garry Kasparov and chess coach Bruce Pandolfini who is generally considered America’s most experienced Chess Master. Their guidance paired with the direction of Frank gives the chess scenes a level of intensity and excitement that has enthralled the general public, as Google has reported a nine-year spike in searches of the phrase “How to play chess.”

It has been praised by Champion’s and Grandmaster’s alike, citing specifically the choreography, realism and the emotion. It has also been credited with an influx of young women, both now and in the immediate future, taking an interest in chess and other traditionally male-dominated activities.

The property of The Queen’s Gambit has long been a part of the Hollywood landscape. The screenplay rights were purchased by creator Allan Scott in 1992, and he has spent decades trying to get the word’s on the page translated to film. The closest he ever came was with late Australian actor Heath Ledger. In the months leading up to his tragic death, Ledger and Scott were deep into their development of the script and “were planning to make a movie at the end 2008.”

Ellen Page was set to star as Harmon, and it would have been Ledger’s debut as a director. Shiach said that “Heath was full of ideas” about the cast and the music, and he would send him hundreds of emails, often late at night, full of musings and suggestions.

Speaking on their work in 2008, Scott has this to say about Ledger:

“He was passionate about it; he was an intense, interested young man and I was drawn to him immediately…We spent a lot of time over the last three months working on his vision. I did draft after draft and he gave his input.”

Despite the circumstances, Scott pushed forward and today we have one of the brightest points of an incredibly dark year and maybe the most celebrated filmmaking venture of the year. 

The Queen’s Gambit is an exceptional and captivating piece of television that will be the talk of every Christmas lunch around the country and the world. It’s an investment that is wholly rewarding and will leave you speechless at the turns it takes and the powerhouse performances, especially that of Taylor-Joy. Keep an eye out for her in Edgar Wright’s feature Last Night in Soho coming next year.

Watch The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix today, and if you haven’t been convinced enough, watch the trailer below:


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