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You’ve heard about the fashion and the drama - but does The Queen’s Gambit truly deliver the goods?

The Queen’s Gambit follows Elizabeth Harman (Anya Taylor-Joy), a fictional chess protege, on her journey from timid orphan to chess royalty. Along the way, Harman must overcome substance addiction, lingering trauma, sexism, and a whole host of other woes that come packaged with her brilliant mind. It is, in many ways, the troubled genius story that’s been explored many times before. The Queen’s Gambit doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a pleasurable watch. 

Taylor-Joy’s performance deserves great praise. She strikes a balance between portraying both Harman’s sharp intellect and her tortured soul, which is a consistent joy to watch on screen. The moments when we see the cost of Harman’s fantastic ability — when we see the lows that she falls to because of it — are among the most powerful moments the show has on offer. A big part of those moments hitting as hard as they do is Taylor-Joy’s performance. Harman also rocks one of the best wardrobes I’ve seen in television in a long time, as do the rest of the cast - whoever was in charge of the costume department for The Queen’s Gambit never fails to hit the nail on the head. 

Dramatically, The Queen’s Gambit is water-tight. Every piece on the script’s board moves as it should to achieve a gratifying victory; the show puts in all the right work to earn the mouthfuls of pay-off it feeds the audience in its final episode. Still, the dramatic moves it makes are very much by the book. Some might find it derivative or cliche, but personally, I enjoyed how undemanding and watchable the series is. 

While the world of chess professionals, with their international tournaments and superstar status, is deeply enticing and is another of the series’ main hooks, there is great missed potential in this department. That world has some genuinely fun and compelling side characters, but the bread and butter of that level of chess are never delved into as much as they could be. The audience is never really shown the board long enough to understand what’s happening, and the matches are more centred around the faces of the players. The characters clearly take precedence over the chess, and this is serviceable. However, the concept of a chess game is far too ripe with potential for visually absorbing sequences to be so neglected by a series centred around chess. 

Another gripe I have with this series is that it plays like a biopic, but it is entirely fictional. You almost feel cheated out of a great true story when you go to google Elizabeth Harman. According to Wikipedia, there are currently 37 female chess grandmasters - why make a series like this and not draw upon some of these women’s stories? They would undoubtedly make as good a series as The Queen’s Gambit, and this is yet another example of this show reeking of missed potential.

The Queen’s Gambit is a highly enjoyable watch - but in my eyes, the crown of the best chess series is still up for grabs. I hope someone can claim it.


3 replies on “Review: The Queen’s Gambit”

Maria Gilroy says:

I thought the acting was superb by the lead actress – I thought the story was beautiful- very sad in places but not a sad drama overall. It’s one I will watch again in the future (I rarely watch a film again). I think this series should be up for some awards – loved it!

CB says:

Another gripe I have of this stuck-up “review” is it reeking of missed potential.
I thought The Queen’s Gambit was absolutely great !

hugh mcilveen says:

This is pure feminist propaganda fantasy. The BEST female chess player is 82nd in the world.
The female lead is a very unpleasant character, patronising and self-serving.
Still, it will please the man-hating feminists. Strange that it’s written by a man, or is it?.

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