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Queen’s Gambit Review: It Makes All The Right Moves

Queen’s Gambit Review: It Makes All The Right Moves
Written by Subhash K . Jha

The Queen’s Gambit(Netflix, 7 Episodes)

 Starring:  Anya Taylor-Joy,Bill Camp

Directed  by  Scott Frank

Rating: ****

There is something  irresistibly appealing about  rags to  riches  story specially when  the  ‘rags’ are  not so much about financial as  creative wealth. As the future chess champ  Beth Harmon, young actress Anya Taylor-Joy drew me  so deep  into her character’s  dark complex world  that by the time I finished  all seven episodes  of her incredible success story(no skips, no skimming over  any  episode) I was cheering  for   Beth as though  she is someone I know  well.

Not that  Beth Harmon is  a pleasure to  know. Surly,  withdrawn  introverted  addicted to pills and alcohol, she is  an unlikely candidate for screen  heroism. Until we realize with a shock that heroism is  not about winning but struggling to get there. From her  beginnings as  an abandoned child to her teen  years   as an adopted  child  to her  lonely climb to the  top  of ‘chess-dom’,  the  series brings to the table  the kind of punctuated and clear emotions that reify  some very  sorted  brains at work, as intelligent as  the world of the chess masters that the  narrative  inhabits.

My favourite  episode is  the first where in a cheerful  

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orphanage little Beth(played with such devastating  wisdom and sobriety by little Isla  Johnston) learns  to play chess in the basement with the janitor  Mr Shaibel(Bill Camp). My first thought on seeing the little girl in a dark dingy room with a sullen aging man was…is she safe?

The  series in all its glorious  colours of  love and  empathy steers away from  walking on  the  dark side of  the moon.Even in her  darkest  mood Beth is in a safe comfortable place. The pills the booze the  scares and the anxieties are in many ways signposts  of a life meant for  greatness. You cannot achieve greatness without the  falls,  bumps, bruises and  bitter experiences.

 In spite of  its  tip into tonal darkness I  found The Queen’s Gambit to be a very positive edifying and exhilarating  experience.At one point towards then end  of the series,  Beth’s  closest female friend  Jolene(Moses Ingram) compares Beth to the 1940s actress Susan Hayward. The comparison, though  facetious, is not inapt. There is  something intrinsically tragic and graceful about  Anya-Taylor Joy. I  would classify her as incontestably classy,  one of  the great actresses  of  this millennium  just wait and watch.

Sadly  the men in  Beth’s life come across as  a wee wimpy, and  bit of a washout.  Harry Melling, Jacob  Fortune-Llloyd and  Thomas Brodie Sangster(he was  the  cute little  boy in Love Actually) struck me as most unworthy  of  Beth. Maybe that’s the father in me  talking. 

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Speaking  of  the father,Beth’s adoptive  dad  is  a certifiable a..hole. It’s her  adoptive mother Alma(Marielle Heller, brilliant ) who comes  across as  the  most vivid and  delectable  character after Beth. The mother-daughter adventures as Beth  climbs from  triumph to  triumph across the world in the beau monde  of the1960s is so  vividly portrayed that  when tragedy strikes the mother-daughter relationship, I felt an emptiness engulf me.

 The Queen’s Gambit makes  all the right  moves, on and off the  chess board. It moves  you in ways  that Netflix’s  Indian content never can. It’s a work of  pure unadulterated  art  made for no other  reason except that  there was a story to be told.

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