‘The Queen’s Gambit’ is more than just chess

Set in the 1960s, The Queens Gambit centers around Beth Harmon as she seeks to become the greatest chess player.

Flitcraft Ltd and Wonderful Films [Fair Use]

Set in the 1960s, “The Queen’s Gambit” centers around Beth Harmon as she seeks to become the greatest chess player.

Kate McElhinney, News Editor

Chess is often described as the world’s hardest game, and, as someone who learned to play at the age of seven and hasn’t won a game since then, I can completely agree. After hearing of a new Netflix original series about chess, then, my expectations were low. Seven criminally long episodes later, and I was completely enthralled. Regardless of whether you like chess or know anything about the game, “The Queen’s Gambit” and its classic girl power themes will have you hooked.

The show focuses on the life of Elizabeth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), a recently orphaned girl from Lexington, Kentucky. In her time at the orphanage, Beth learns chess from the janitor, Mr. Shaibel, who gives me very much Mr. Miyagi vibes, honestly, but without the fence painting and car waxing. Beth quickly realizes her talent at the game, and she plays in many tournaments in the following years. With some wins, some losses and a lot of fun in between, she grows up and discovers the reality of being a young woman in the sixties.

Although much of “The Queen’s Gambit” centers around chess, the scenes surrounding it are still incredibly well produced. The directors perfectly encapsulated the sixties aesthetic, and I fell in love with the collared dresses and the plethora of women with short haircuts. The sets were beautifully constructed, and for a while I was completely convinced that this show was shot in the sixties. Everything from costumes to set design to even the accents was flawlessly done.

In keeping with the sixties theme, many of the songs accompanied the sets perfectly. However, my favorite aspect of the show was the instrumental music that played during the intense scenes, generally during chess matches. Each song rose and fell in syncopation with my heartbeats, as I anxiously watched Beth during her tournaments. Without such a powerful score, much of the emotion that radiates from the series would be lost.

The most important‒ yet, arguably the most bothersome‒ aspect of the TV series is its ability to capture the feeling of being a woman in a man’s world. Chess has always been a predominantly male game, especially in the sixties. Beth feels society’s pressure to join a sorority at her school and learn to become a successful housewife. However, she instead chooses to compete against men in chess competitions, often missing school, and she receives backlash for this. Anyone who has experienced the frustration of being the only girl in a situation can relate all too well to many of the series’ most iconic moments. 

Netflix generally produces interesting TV series, and “The Queen’s Gambit” is no exception. While rather long and difficult to binge-watch, the plot’s depth and incredible score make it well worth the watch. If you don’t feel inspired to wear a shin-length dress or play chess against a computer on the easiest level possible after watching the show, you should probably rewatch it. From the stunning cinematography to the beautifully written script, “The Queen’s Gambit” left me feeling both intrigued and inspired. In order to win a game of chess, you must capture your opponent’s king, leaving them completely defeated. After enduring many hardships, Beth does exactly that, showing that all kings must eventually fall.