'The Queen's Gambit' Review: Anya Taylor-Joy shines in the period drama offering a refreshing take on chess
From a scintillating storyline to magnetic performances, 'The Queen's Gambit' has everything that goes into the making of a groundbreaking series
Spoilers for 'The Queen's Gambit'
Artful, gripping and painful are the words that best describe 'The Queen's Gambit.' By the time the end credits roll, there is this bittersweet feeling when you go back to thinking about how it all started. Honestly, this writer cannot play chess. So it took a fair bit of research post watching the miniseries to understand the nitty-gritty of the game. And then there's Anya Taylor-Joy herself. After watching her in 'The New Mutants', it's safe to say she's destined for greatness.
Call this an exaggerated comparison, but this sort of draws a parallel with where Rami Malek started. The earliest memory was watching him play Finn in 'Need for Speed' and now, he's already making headlines as one of the most enigmatic James Bond villains with 'No Time to Die' coming up. Anya, with 'Emma' and a 'Mad Max' prequel coming up, plays Elizabeth Harmon in the Netflix series — a chess wunderkind with an addiction to tranquilizer pills.
Set in the mid-60s, Anya is revealed to be the miracle survivor of a disastrous car crash that snuffs out her mother's life. The orphanage she's moved to comes as a blessing in disguise when she meets the grumpy-looking, but kind janitor, Mr Shaibel (Bill Camp) who introduces her to chess, except he doesn't know that the kid has the memory and the power to learn the moves in a fraction of a second and play it all in her mind, one meticulous move at a time.
It's repulsive to see the kids being issued a tranquilizer in the guise of a multivitamin as part of their daily routine and Beth's addiction starts from a young age. A horrific scene is when we witness a young Beth breaking into the medicine room and swallowing a mouthful of the pills just to pass out in front of the remaining children. Walter-Trevis' novel has been brought to life in the most intriguing style in 'The Queen's Gambit'.
There are additional reasons to enjoy the series. In a male-dominated society, it's brilliant to see Beth rise meteorically by taking down male chess opponents. The moves are expert-like, they are deadly and all the while, Beth's face is a mixture of gloat, intense concentration and a bit edgy without the pills by her side at that time. Over the course of time, Beth gets adopted and while the relationship is pretty rocky, Alma (Marielle Heller) finally understands the genius Beth is.
The challenge comes in the form of Russians, who compare her to Ann-Margret, and all the while, the series also provides a detailed look at her growth. The major part of the series spends ample time in watching her grow up.
There's attention to detail and the period costumes along with the music make it a rich affair to watch. There's no doubt the series will come across as a slow-burner with some wry humor at some stage between the first and the third episode, however, that's pretty much the setting needed before it switches pace.
The cast supports Anya's brilliant performance. In Harry Melling and Thomas Brodie-Sangster, there are some compelling performances while Moses Ingram shines in her role as Jolene, Beth's friend in the orphanage. However, it is all Joy as she breathes life into Beth as a person who struggles with substance addiction, but is a sheer force when she sits in front of the chessboard.
The big eyes give nothing away as she plans the moves and pre-meditates the multiple scenarios her opponent would be looking at. From a scintillating storyline to magnetic performances, 'The Queen's Gambit' has everything, including an ending (which we aren't giving out) that will see eyes well up. There's every reason to watch this drama when it releases on Friday, October 23, on Netflix.