‘The Queen’s Gambit’: The overnight success that took 30 years to make

Mild Spoilers Ahead!


Nadiyah Hansraj

The Queen’s Gambit hooked us all from the beginning, setting records as the most-watched scripted limited series on Netflix. Within the first 28 days, 62 million member accounts had tuned in to watch Beth Harmon tackle life and chess.

After the death of her mother, at age nine Beth Harmon is sent to an orphanage in Kentucky, where she has one friend, Jolene and is fed tranquilisers. During her time at the orphanage, she befriends the janitor Mr Shaibel who  introduces her to chess, sparking her love and talent for it. By the next episode, Beth is adopted by a couple in Lexington, where she forms a relationship with her adoptive mother, Alma. Throughout the series, Beth competes in chess tournaments, however she relies on her pills.

Yet the question remains: why did The Queen’s Gambit appeal to so many people? The answer is, simply because it presented hope and optimism. Although addiction is  presented as a main theme in this series, Beth Harmon is able to overcome it by the end and compete in the USSR for the 1968 Moscow Invitational Chess Tournament  while completely sober.

The show starts with a young girl sent to an orphanage with very few  friends, drugs and a basement. You would presume that this show would turn pessimistic, however, The Queen’s Gambit takes another direction and presents the audience with a talented Beth Harmon dealing with her problems and rising to become one of the best chess players in the world. Whilst there were many opportunities to present themes of racisism and discrimination, the writers chose to make these themes less prevalent, through at no expense. For example, when Beth and Jolene drive through Kentucky, they would normally be arrested by a racist cop, but instead they drive around and chat. During the time of the series, the Cold War was taking place and negative aspects could have been shown, but no – the Russians and Americans loved her. Beth Harmon was also a young woman who, at the time, was in a male dominated industry. Yet, this doesn’t stop her as she goes on to compete against the best chess players in the world.

The Queen’s Gambit showed us kindness through Mr Shaibel, a stranger, teaching a young girl how to be a talented chess player. He even gave her 5 dollars for her first chess tournament ever. Later on in the series, we see both Harry Beltik and Benny Watts help Beth Harmon improve her chess game. Jolene also gives Beth thousands of dollars to help her go to the USSR despite them not having seen each other for years.

The Queen’s Gambit had an amazing cast, featuring Anya Taylor-Joy, as Beth Harmon, Harry Melling as Harry Beltik and Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny Watts.