The Queen's Gambit is a fictional story that follows the life of an orphan chess prodigy, Beth Harmon, during her quest to become the world's greatest chess player while struggling with emotional problems and drug and alcohol dependency. The Queen's Gambit is a chess opening. The story begins in the mid-1950s and proceeds into the 1960s.
The story begins in Lexington, Kentucky, where a nine-year-old Beth, having lost her mother in a car crash, is taken to an orphanage where she is taught chess by the building's custodian, Mr. Shaibel. As was common during the 1950s, the orphanage dispenses daily tranquilizer pills to the girls, which turns into an addiction for Beth. A few years later, Beth is adopted by Alma Wheatley and her husband from Lexington. As she adjusts to her new home, Beth enters a chess tournament and wins despite having no prior experience in competitive chess. She develops friendships with several people, including former Kentucky state champion Harry Beltik; gifted but arrogant chess prodigy Benny Watts; and journalist, photographer, and fellow player player D.L. Townes. As Beth continues to win games and reaps the financial benefits of her success, she becomes more dependent on drugs and alcohol.
The Queen’s Gambit “phenomenon” becomes most popular limited series ever on Netflix
The seven-part series has been Netflix's number one programme in 63 countries.
By Patrick McLennan
Monday, 23rd November 2020 at 11:06 pm
The fictional story of a female chess prodigy in 1960s America, The Queen’s Gambit, has been revealed to be the most popular limited series to ever screen on Netflix, with 62 million households having watched it according to the streaming network.
Not only that, but EW is reporting that the show about the orphaned chess genius Beth Harmon (played by Anglo-American actress Anya Taylor-Joy) has reinvigorated the sport and led to a massive demand for chess sets.
It’s worth pointing out that Netflix collects data differently to audience-tracking companies such as Nielsen. Netflix counts a play as any household that has watched at least two minutes of a programme – which could mean a household watches I numerous times but it only counts as one view – while Nielsen compares streaming shows by tallying the amount of minutes they’re watched.
Netflix said The Queen’s Gambit was watched by 62 million households in its first 28 days. Even allowing for its unusual tracking methodology that is still an impressive figure.
Meanwhile, the sale of chess sets have gone through the roof, according to Goliath Games director of marketing Mary Higbe in an interview with US radio network NPR.
Her revelation was echoed by Elizabeth LoVecchio, vice president of marketing at Spin Master, who explained that “our chess sales have increased triple digits”.
The same has happened in the UK, with searches for chess sets up almost 300 per cent on eBay UK.
Nouman Qureshi, Toys Category Manager at eBay UK, recently told Metro: “We’re seeing shoppers turn to more traditional forms of entertainment during this second lockdown. This includes a big uptake in the classic game of chess, which if things continue as they are, we might all be pros at by December 2.”
As well, Walter Tevis’ original 1983 novel, The Queen’s Gambit, has hit the best seller’s list in The New York Times.
Netflix’s vice president of original series Peter Friedlander applauded showrunner Scott Frank in a blog post.
“Three years ago when Scott Frank (Godless) first approached us about adapting The Queen’s Gambit – Walter Tevis’ 1983 book about a young chess prodigy – we felt it was a compelling tale. Beth is an underdog who faces addiction, loss and abandonment. Her success – against the odds – speaks to the importance of perseverance, family, and finding, and staying true to, yourself. However, I don’t think any of us could have predicted that The Queen’s Gambit – and the extraordinary Anya Taylor-Joy – would become the global phenomena they are today, or our biggest limited scripted series ever,” he wrote.
The Queen’s Gambit is streaming now on Netflix.
The Queen's Gambit review – from an orphanage basement to the top of the chess world
3 / 5 stars3 out of 5 stars.
Anya Taylor-Joy plays a 64-square prodigy in Netflix’s gorgeous Walter Tevis adaptation, which – while heavy on rags-to-riches fantasy – proves great fun
Fri 23 Oct 2020 09.00 BSTLast modified on Fri 23 Oct 2020 09.02 BST
As the tale of a woman who rises from discovering the game in an orphanage basement to the pinnacle of the chess world, Netflix’s new miniseries The Queen’s Gambit can’t really fail. When it’s based on the book of the same name by legendary short story writer and novelist Walter Tevis, upon whose work the films The Hustler, The Man Who Fell to Earth and The Color of Money were also based, the odds of success seem even higher.
As such, there is plenty to like and to admire in this new, seven-part drama (starring first Isla Johnston then Anya Taylor-Joy as the prodigy Beth Harmon). We watch her become addicted both to the pills handed out – legally, apparently, in the 1950s when her story begins – to the children every day to keep them calm and compliant and, gradually, to the chess board and the control and solace it offers. Mr Shaibel (Bill Camp) introduces her to the coach of the local high school’s chess team and from thereon she is away, powering through the ranks until she becomes a giant-slaying grandmaster. Adoption by a local couple does not turn out to be the hoped-for domestic idyll, but when the husband abandons his alcoholic wife, Alma (a heartbreaking performance by Marielle Heller, more usually found directing the likes of A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood and Can You Ever Forgive Me?), she and Beth form a fragile connection that is strengthened when Alma discovers that winning chess tournaments can be quite the money-spinner. Soon they are travelling the country and then the world together, with Alma turning Beth into her drinking buddy as they go. She’s a pill-popper, too, and refilling her prescriptions provides Beth with a nice little supply of tablets of her own.
It looks gorgeous, the main performances are superb, the vital chess exposition neatly done and the true meaning of each game to Beth is made clear, whether spiritual battle, learning curve, inner reckoning, occasional flirtation, retreat from or re-emergence into the world. However, without the anchoring point of a true story behind it all, it has the feeling of a fairytale rather than the sports movie or biopic its trajectory and tropes keep pointing viewers towards. Beth’s rise is virtually frictionless. Her first loss doesn’t come until halfway through the series, her addictions don’t hamper her until even later, and as a young woman in the male-dominated world of 60s chess she meets virtually no sexism, let alone predatory behaviour. The men she faces across the board and trounces sometimes look a bit cross, but are for the most part nobly admiring, and Beth’s greatest source of annoyance seems to be the magazine interviews that keep referring to her as “a female chess genius”.
Though it tries to rise to the height of commentary – on the thin line between genius and madness, how we may be hoist by our own self-sabotage petards, whether we can hope to overcome our inner and/or our chemical demons – The Queen’s Gambit functions best and for the most part as a wish-fulfilment, rags-to-riches fantasy. Will she win again, this 64-square hustler? Yes! Will she learn and grow from her (board-based) mistakes before a Soviet superplayer and show him the colour of her money next time? Yes! What would it be like to be that good at something that young? To be born – fall to earth, you might say – with the kind of mind that vaults you immediately, unstoppably into a tiny elite and brings you global glory? Unlike chess, The Queen’s Gambit is slightly less than the sum of its parts, but you will have a great deal of fun watching them at work.