The Queen's Gambit is an American drama streaming television miniseries starring Anya Taylor-Joy based on Walter Tevis's 1983 novel of the same name. It was created by Scott Frank and Allan Scott and released on Netflix on October 23, 2020.
The Queen's Gambit is a fictional story that follows the life of an orphan chess prodigy, Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), during her quest to become the world's greatest chess player while struggling with emotional issues and drug and alcohol dependency. The story begins in the mid-1950s and proceeds into the 1960s.
The series starts in a girls' orphanage where a nine-year old Beth, having lost her mother in a car accident, meets Jolene (Moses Ingram), a vibrant and friendly girl a few years older than her; Helen Deardorff (Christiane Seidel), the woman running the orphanage; and Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), the custodian of the orphanage, who teaches Beth her first chess lessons. As was common during the 1950s, the orphanage dispenses daily tranquilizer pills to the girls, which turns into an addiction for Beth. A few years later, Beth is adopted by Alma Wheatley (Marielle Heller) and her husband from Lexington, Kentucky. After being adopted and adjusting to her new home, Beth enrolls herself in chess tournaments even though she has no prior experience. She wins many games and finally gets noticed by others and develops friendships with several people, including former Kentucky state champion Harry Beltik (Harry Melling), chess savant Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd). As Beth continues to win games and reaps the financial benefits of her success, she becomes more dependent on drugs and alcohol, and starts to lose control of her life.
Nevertheless, she finally defeats the Russian chess world champion in Moscow in a spectacular game, in which a Queen's Gambit is actually played. Her triumph has various symbolic levels: an American chess player defeats a Russian grandmaster; a very young woman defeats an older man; and finally, Beth Harmon does not become world champion in the male-dominated chess world as a lone fighter, but in the end enjoys the recognition and support of several high-ranking male colleagues.
|No.||Title||Directed by||Teleplay by||Original release date|
|1||"Openings"||Scott Frank||Scott Frank||October 23, 2020|
|Elizabeth "Beth" Harmon is orphaned when her mother dies in a car crash. She is taken to an orphanage, where the children are given tranquilizing pills to make them compliant. While cleaning erasers in the basement, Beth discovers the custodian, Mr. Shaibel, playing chess, who after repeated requests reluctantly agrees to teach her the game. She becomes obsessed and improves quickly, thanks to her spatial intelligence and abuse of mind-altering tranquilizers that allow her to focus and replay chess games in her head. Beth meets the local high school chess club teacher, Mr. Ganz, who invites her to play against his entire team simultaneously. She beats all of them handily, later commenting to Mr. Shaibel on their poor chess skills and how invigorating it is to win. After the state passes a law outlawing the use of tranquilizers on children, Beth begins to suffer from withdrawal. She is caught stealing a jar of the medication, and passes out after overdosing from swallowing several mouthfuls of pills.|
|2||"Exchanges"||Scott Frank||Scott Frank||October 23, 2020|
|After her overdose, Beth is prohibited from playing chess. Time passes and Beth is adopted as a teenager by the Wheatleys. While running an errand for Mrs. Wheatley, Beth discovers her adoptive mother is taking the same tranquilizer pills that she was given at the orphanage and secretly steals some for herself, allowing her to play mental chess again. Beth then enters her first chess tournament with money borrowed from Mr. Shaibel. As she cruises through her matches, she develops a crush on one of her later opponents, an older boy named Townes. After the first day of the tournament, Beth comes home to find that Mr. Wheatley has left Mrs. Wheatley and Beth fears that she will be sent back to the orphanage, but Mrs. Wheatley tells her they will lie so she can stay. During her final match of the tournament against Harry Beltik, the highest-ranked player, Beth becomes flustered and runs to the restroom; she takes a tranquilizer pill, then wins the match handily. Upon learning of the prize money to be won in other tournaments, Mrs. Wheatley hatches a plan for the two women to support themselves.|
|3||"Doubled Pawns"||Scott Frank||Scott Frank||October 23, 2020|
|Mrs. Wheatley and Beth check into their hotel room in Cincinnati. Beth wins the tournament. Her mother asks for 10% of the prize money as an agent commission, but Beth gives her 15%. Beth continues to miss school while traveling to tournaments, where she is quickly gaining national recognition for her achievements. Back at school, Beth is invited to her first social event with the Apple Pi club. She realizes she has nothing in common with typical teenage culture and becomes overwhelmed. She swipes a bottle of alcohol and escapes back home. In 1966, Beth heads to Las Vegas for the US Open where she is reunited with Townes, now a journalist who is covering the event. They return to his hotel room where Townes takes her picture and they play chess. Beth runs into Benny Watts who points out a weakness in her game against Beltik. Beth is taken aback and suddenly loses confidence. She experiences her first loss against Watts the next day; they finish the tournament tied for first place.|
|4||"Middle Game"||Scott Frank||Scott Frank||October 23, 2020|
|Beth travels to Mexico City with Mrs. Wheatley, who while there spends most of her time with Manuel, a longtime pen pal. Beth competes against several international players, including a young boy from Russia named Georgi Giev in a match that spans two days. In an elevator, Beth uses her growing knowledge of Russian to eavesdrop on Soviet world champion Vasily Borgov and two associates. While they underestimate her, Borgov tells them she is an orphan, and a survivor like them. Manuel abandons Mrs. Wheatley just as Mr. Wheatley did. The following day, Beth plays Borgov, and after an intense game, loses to him. Back in the hotel room, Beth discovers her mother has died of hepatitis, likely worsened by her excess drinking.|
|5||"Fork"||Scott Frank||Scott Frank||October 23, 2020|
|Beth goes back home to Kentucky and reconnects with Harry Beltik, the former state champion she beat five years prior. Beltik moves in to the Wheatleys' house to accompany the now lonely Beth, and the two spend time training and growing close until Beltik realizes Beth’s obsession with chess will always supersede any relationship they may have. The two part ways, Beltik having taught Beth all he can, and time flashes forward to the 1967 US championship where Beth reunites with former child prodigy Benny Watts. The evening before the final round and rematch between the two, Benny challenges Beth to several rounds of speed chess in front of a large crowd of tournament attendees. He beats her in all of them, but doesn’t realize that she has used the opportunity to learn his weaknesses. This motivates Beth to a quick victory over Benny the next day and the two discuss Beth’s future in international competition.|
|6||"Adjournment"||Scott Frank||Scott Frank||October 23, 2020|
|Benny invites Beth to train for the Paris Tournament with him in New York. While there, he makes her sober up and enhance her chess skills with the help of a few friends from the chess scene. Beth also bonds with Cleo, a model who was once infatuated with Benny. Then, Beth travels to the tournament in Paris and works her way up to the final match with Borgov. Cleo reveals that she's also in Paris and invites Beth for drinks, making her relapse on her alcohol and pills addiction. Beth is woken up after sleeping with Cleo, coming full circle back to the opening moment of the first episode. Hungover, she loses once more to Borgov. Beth goes back home again and soon learns her adoptive father has returned home only to extort money from her by making her buy the house. Beth plunges into an addiction spiral that even Beltik cannot rescue her from and passes out in her living room, only to be woken up by Jolene ringing at her door.|
|7||"End Game"||Scott Frank||Scott Frank||October 23, 2020|
|Jolene arrives and informs Beth that Mr. Shaibel has died. They both go to the funeral and Beth returns to see the orphanage, she is moved to tears when she finds a wall of newspaper clippings he made for her, along with a photograph of the pair together during her time at the orphanage. Finally coming to grips with the past, she is comforted by Jolene and the experience helps her move forward. Beth gives up her funding from Christian Crusade after they request a public statement from her which she is unwilling to give. After getting a loan from Jolene, Beth goes to Russia to play in the prestigious Moscow Invitational. The final game is with Borgov and Beth surprises Borgov by playing the Queen's Gambit; the game becomes adjourned after 40 moves. That evening Townes visits Beth in her hotel. Beth receives a phone call, it is Benny who has assembled a team which includes Beltik and the twins. Her community of supporters help her analyze the adjourned position of her match with Borgov. Beth is grateful to receive the help from her friends and takes copious notes. When play resumes the next day, Beth beats Borgov in the adjourned game. On the way back to the airport, she gets out of the car and walks around the city. She finds a number of old men playing chess. When they realize who she is, she is invited to play.|
On March 19, 2019, Netflix gave the production a series order consisting of six episodes. The series was directed by Scott Frank, who also created the series with Allan Scott. The two also served as executive producers alongside William Horberg. The series was released on October 23, 2020 with seven episodes instead of the original six-episode order. Carlos Rafael Rivera composed the series score. Former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov and chess coach Bruce Pandolfini acted as consultants.
Alongside the series order announcement, it was announced that Anya Taylor-Joy was set to star as the lead. In January 2020, it was reported Moses Ingram had joined the cast of the series. Upon the miniseries premiere date announcement, it was announced that Bill Camp, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Harry Melling and Marielle Heller were cast in starring roles.
Principal photography began in August 2019 in Cambridge, Ontario. Filming also took place in Berlin, including the Kino International, the Berlin Zoo, Humana and the Friedrichstadt-Palast.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, The Queen's Gambit received an approval rating of 100% based on 62 reviews, with an average rating of 8.07/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Its moves aren't always perfect, but between Anya Taylor-Joy's magnetic performance, incredibly realized period details, and emotionally intelligent writing, The Queen's Gambit is an absolute win." Metacritic gave the series a weighted average score of 79 out of 100 based on 28 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly gave the series a B and described the lead actress, "Taylor-Joy excels in the quiet moments, her eyelids narrowing as she decimates an opponent, her whole body physicalizing angry desperation when the game turns against her." Reviewing the miniseries for Rolling Stone, Alan Sepinwall gave it 3 out of 5 stars and said, "An aesthetically beautiful project with several superb performances, all in service to a story that starts to feel padded long before the end comes." Variety's Caroline Framke wrote "The Queen's Gambit manages to personalize the game and its players thanks to clever storytelling and, in Anya Taylor-Joy, a lead actor so magnetic that when she stares down the camera lens, her flinty glare threatens to cut right through it."
The series received praise from the chess community for its portrayal of the game and players. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Woman Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade said that the series "completely nailed the chess accuracy". In an article about the miniseries in The Times, British chess champion, David Howell felt that the chess scenes were "well choreographed and realistic", while British Women's chess champion, Jovanka Houska stated, "I think it's a fantastic TV series ... [i]t conveys the emotion of chess really well."