A seven-hour drama collection about chess gamers? It’d sound extra like a punishment at first than a pleasure. However The Queen’s Gambit — now streaming on Netflix; I’ve seen all seven episodes — does the unthinkable: It manages to make the sport of chess fascinating… and horny, even. (I do know!) It’s an underdog story that finds deep emotion and psychological intrigue amid chess’ chilly, cerebral strikes, and it’s powered by a star-making efficiency from Anya Taylor-Pleasure, who’s an absolute knockout.
She stars as Beth Harmon, a quiet orphan who discovers a expertise for chess whereas caught in a grim orphanage the place the youngsters are pumped filled with tranquilizers. (She learns the sport from a gruff however type janitor, performed by The Evening Of‘s Invoice Camp.) Quickly, Beth is clobbering highschool chess membership members, despite the fact that she’s solely 8, and we observe her as she grows up and turns into top-of-the-line chess gamers on the earth within the 1960s, jet-setting to worldwide tournaments and attaining widespread fame. A nagging dependancy to medication and alcohol, although, coupled with a rocky residence life threaten to derail her promising profession.
Now, after all, simply watching individuals play chess for seven hours might have been painfully tedious, however The Queen’s Gambit appears to know that and spices issues up by taking us inside Beth’s head, mapping out her assault with big chess items floating on the ceiling. (Scott Frank, who did Netflix’s 2017 Western Godless, serves as author and director right here.) Beth additionally hooks up with a ragtag bunch of chess professionals alongside the way in which, led by the charming Benny Watts (Recreation of Thrones‘ Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and their nerdy camaraderie makes chess really feel much less lonely and extra like a group sport. Plus, it’s a deal with to journey again to the swinging ’60s, with colourful costumes and plush manufacturing design that recall Mad Males and The Crown.
Taylor-Pleasure’s lead efficiency, although, is the actual cause to look at. When Beth is taking part in chess, she’s chilly, unreadable, nearly robotic. And she or he’s acquired runway-model appears, too: Her large eyes appear to penetrate whoever’s unfortunate sufficient to sit down throughout the chess board from her, and her flirtation with good-looking photographer Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) offers a fizzy kick. However she additionally carries a ton of psychological baggage from her childhood, and Taylor-Pleasure — a Peaky Blinders alum greatest recognized for starring within the 2015 movie The Witch — regularly unpacks that baggage as Beth will get tantalizingly near attaining her chess goals. It’s a messy journey, full of setbacks and dangerous selections, however Taylor-Pleasure finds the sweetness in it and shines a lightweight on the raging feelings stirring inside this genius.
The Queen’s Gambit does fall into predictable plot factors at occasions — we all know, for instance, that Beth must face off with formidable Russian chess champ Borgov earlier than the top — but it surely’s satisfying to look at Beth notice her potential in addition to face her demons. It even makes you need to mud off the previous chess board and play a recreation or two. Even in the event you don’t know a bishop from a rook, although, Taylor-Pleasure’s plain efficiency makes this one a winner.
THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit finds a method to make chess riveting, due to a knockout efficiency from star Anya Taylor-Pleasure.