‘The Queen’s Gambit’ makes chess more exciting and interesting than it has any reason to be

by Gordon Shelly

I know a little about chess. Not much, but a little. I know what each piece is called and what it can do. I know a few things about strategy and opening moves, but I am not competitive by any means and I couldn’t tell you what a single move is called. I’ve always preferred Stratego over chess or checkers. But I digress.  Regardless of what game you play, The Queen’s Gambit is truly and unexpectedly amazing.

I had heard the hype, but I did not rush to watch this show. I had heard it was very good, well-acted, and masterfully told. But still, I avoided the show. I could not fathom how seven episodes of a series revolving around the game of chess could be consistently interesting, yet alone exciting. The Queen’s Gambit achieves both of those goals and at the highest of levels. It is both interesting and exciting. The development of the characters and the progression of the story are immensely involved and interesting, and the long-play of the story is satisfying and compelling.   And, it is exciting. At times, I found my palms sweating in anticipation of what was going to happen next.

The Queen’s Gambit tells the story of young Beth Harmon (Isla Johnston) who is orphaned as a child and finds herself living in, well, an orphanage. As fiction would have it, a wise janitor helps her develop her natural skills of strategy and survival via the game of chess. As an adolescent and young adult (Anya Taylor-Joy), Beth must overcome the tribulations of her past and the trials of her future to achieve the highest levels of a chess competition in the bygone era of the late 1960s. While paralleling much of the life of the real-life Bobby Fischer, The Queen’s Gambit is a work of fiction. At its best, it is a powerful story about underdogs and triumphs, at it’s worst, it is the same, the story of an underdog overcoming fantastical obstacles to achieve an incredible goal, in fact, one so incredible, that history proves it false. As much as I wanted to believe every detail of the story, it fall short of reality and edges more toward fantasy when compared to its counterpart.

Now, admittedly, there are flaws, very few, but they exist. The story relies a little too heavy on musical montages to create excitement where none exists, but other than that, the shortcomings are far and few between.

Gordon’s Grade: A