The Queen’s Gambit and the Rise of a Great Female Character
SPOILER ALERT: Article contains spoilers for The Queen’s Gambit, Season One
Originally released on Netflix in October of 2020, The Queen’s Gambit quickly became the streaming service’s most-watched limited series in less than a month since its release. Based on the 1983 novel of the same name, by Walter Tevis, this limited series follows the life of Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), a chess prodigy who, while reaching great heights, tends to fall hard in dramatic fashion.
Beth first graces our screens in what we’re led to believe is one of her lowest moments, experiencing the aftermath of a night of self-sabotage before one of the biggest matches of her career. While staring down her opponent, we’re taken back to her childhood, following the death of her mother, Alice Harmon (Chloe Pirrie), and her entrance into an orphanage.
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From there we’re introduced to the little green pills we see her taking throughout the series, a tranquiliser given to the children at the orphanage. And after a chance encounter with Mr Shaibel (Bill Camp), the orphanage’s janitor, Beth enters the world of chess. Immediately captured with the game, we watch as she visualises games on the ceiling of her dorm, and sneaks off during class to play with Mr Shaibel.
We witness her rise through the chess world at an astounding speed, experiencing with her the highs and lows of life as a woman in a male-dominated world. We watch as tragedy strikes, and she learns how to pick herself up and learns to rely on others, even if just for a moment.
It is established early on that Beth is an incredibly complex character, and whilst facing rivals who would not want to see her succeed, her only antagonist throughout the series’ seven episodes, is herself. She is driven by her success, and due to those green little pills, feels like she can’t succeed without them, and when she stumbles and loses a little bit of her success, she falls hard.
It isn’t until she hits rock bottom and comes back up, this time without those green little pills or her self-sabotaging ways, that she realizes all she needed to succeed was her mind, and everything from her gameplay to visualising the game was her all along.
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Beth deals with various tragedies and an ongoing addiction throughout the course of the seven episodes. Each moment working to shape this incredibly flawed character, but through the tragedy and the downfalls, comes a character that serves as a great female representation on screen.
In a weird way, it’s almost as if she had been written like a male character, or at least in a way we’re used to seeing male characters written, portrayed as strong, unapologetic, flawed but not defined by it, and incredibly driven. This is what makes her such a strong female character, as she isn’t held back by the preconceived notions that appear to be forced on most female characters, even nowadays, especially for a female character set in the 50s and 60s, and one that was originally written for screen in the early 2000s. And for a series that itself is based around chess, prior knowledge is not needed, I was very much in the dark about chess before watching. The way the characters interact with chess, however, almost makes it a character in and of itself. One that as you continue watching, though you might not understand it completely, you develop a level of understanding about the complexities and intensities of the game.
There is little question as to why this series was loved by so many viewers in such a short period of time. In fact, I was so drawn in the first time I watched, that within seven hours, I had watched it all the way through.
This series is excellently crafted, with a script that explores complexities and portrays them accordingly, cinematography that will continually mesmerise, costuming that is phenomenal and helps add layers to each character, and the casting, which if you ask me, couldn’t have been done better. Each piece of this series works together in brilliant unison, to create something that pulls you in from the first moment, until the very last.
You find yourself cheering Beth on when she’s reaching her highs, and feeling her pain when she hits her lows. It’s a fine balance to strike, but for a character so flawed, you can’t help but want to see her reach the stars.
The Queen’s Gambit is available to watch on Netflix, so if you haven’t already seen it, then I would highly recommend sitting down and taking it all in.