After hearing a bunch of guys on Facebook complaining about Netflix's The Queen's Gambit, I knew I had to defend this rich, engrossing show. It's not a true story; instead, it tells a very plausible alternative history of what could have occurred had the sexism of the 1960s not existed. Anna Taylor-Joy plays chess prodigy Beth Harmon, an orphan whose genius mother suffered from mental illness. She learned to play chess from the orphanage janitor and went on to become the best player in the world.
Taylor-Joy is frankly always a delight, in my experience, and in this case there's no exception. She plays Harmon, an updated version of the tortured genius, well. If you loved movies like A Beautiful Mind, you'll probably enjoy this one, too. And if you did but you think this is boring, like some of the reviewers I spoke with, I have to wonder if it's because you're so used to seeing women used as prizes, helpers or manic pixies.
The most wonderful part of this series is the fact that Beth's agency is kept intact. She has her own home at an age before most young people, let alone single women, do, or certainly did during the 1960s. Her relationships are casual by her own choice, and she doesn't remain with people who have their own ideas of who she should be and what a fine wife she'd make simply because of her looks or mystery. Even the kindest men she sleeps with don't really know her and in the end, it is her friendships, and not a romantic relationship, that are at the core of her success.
It's an incredibly refreshing take, and between the fantastic acting and direction, it's also a fun world to slip into. There were moments where I cringed, thinking something terrible (likely a sexual assault) might occur only because it ALWAYS does in a story about a woman like this, and let's face it, that is realistic. A third of women can expect violence in their lives at some point. But that doesn't mean we have to glorify it in media, which is meant to help us escape or relax from real life, and The Queen's Gambit doesn't do that at all. There is plenty of loss and heartbreak, including a violent suicide, but there's no glorification of sexual violence, or any sexual violence at all. So the tension that builds is actually tension that's fun to follow.
What did you think of the seven-episode miniseries?