I think its a bold choice on the producers’ and makers’ end to create a show that does not involve action or dramatic controversies, is buildungsroman in nature and where important decisions are made mostly inside the head of the protagonist. ‘Queen’s Gambit’ played the risky game simply by choosing a plot that wouldn’t be found interesting by a great part of the OTT audiences that usually prefers ‘more happening’ stories.
Anya Taylor plays her most convincing and critically acclaimed role as Elizabeth Harmon in Queen’s Gambit. I couldn’t stop admiring her, and I couldn’t stop admiring how beautifully the story of the protagonist’s rise to greatness is written.
An orphaned girl, Eliabeth or Beth Harmon is left at an orphanage where she manages to find herself a rare passion that was in fact, very rare for a girl her age during the 1960s. She discovered a janitor playing chess with himself and insisted he teach her until he caved in. Of course, it is quite evident from the start that she was destined for greatness. A female chess player who is dramatically good at the game in a world of chess that was male dominated until her, was bound for some theatrical, world-encompassing success. But like with every series that has a seemingly predictable plotline, what kept me glued to this one is the curiosity of how the writers would play out the details.
Of course, the orphan girl stood no chance unless she was adopted. Beth Harmon gets adopted into a family that can take care of her but is broken nonetheless. She becomes her mother’s ray of hope as she begins to enter chess tournaments and keeps up a winning streak. The challenge in her path is not some distant enemy who plots against her and poses threats to her journey; which I expected would be the case. I expected to see a sore looking man jealous of her career using his influence to curb her success and gloating about it. However, it was a happy thing that didn’t turn out to be the case. In fact, the men in the series are written as a supportive, jovial and encouraging bunch of people. That was a breath of fresh air – because men in the 60s in a male dominant game sphere could easily have been sore about a girl making her way to the top by beating them. Sexism could easily have been the actual villains of the story but Queen’s Gambit commendably does not go down that road. Maybe because the game in question is chess – players are expected to be intellectually reasonable. And they are. Somewhat proud and haughty about their own talent; but very reasonable nonetheless.
The antagonist of Beth Harmon’s story is her addiction to ‘tranquilizers’. She falls prey to it early and struggles through multiple phases of substance abuse that threatens to break her completely. Initially, it feels like the talent in chess is actually not her, but the drug within her. Halfway through that narrative is turned around when she momentarily lets off the addiction but relapses anyways. We await a saviour to come through and again, I expected it to be her first love – the handsome co-player Townes, only to be surprised again. The saviour is an unexpected visitor who takes her on a literal road trip down her life journey. Of course Beth wins the battle against her addiction and accomplishes her biggest and earliest ambition. The finale episode could well have given me anxiety even though the ending was predictable. It is refreshingly wonderful how the entire cast has been included in the finale to arrive at a heart-warming ending. And how the game of chess has been presented in a new limelight using the people who play them and projected as a true gentlemen/women’s game.
Elizabeth Harmon is her own person. She gels with the people around her but she’s a league apart from them all. She doesn’t try to play that out and be a diva of course. But her personality, her journey and the ending she got are some truly ‘exclusively her’ things. The writers have managed to create a character that is truly impactful, and Anya simply hit the ball out of the park with her acting.
The Queen’s Gambit has been a memorable/notable one among the many that I binge for mindless entertainment. This one wasn’t mindless for sure. There won’t be a sequel as it is a limited edition series so that’s sad. But I guess good things are best kept limited.
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