SnowboardJunkie’s review published on Letterboxd:
Walter Tevis book The Queens Gambit is loosely based on his own experiences in becoming a class C chess player. Which would be considered stronger than any scholastic or social players but only an average tournament player. Basically, he could beat anyone who didn’t play for a living but was swimming with the sharks when money was at stake. Being diagnosed with a rheumatic heart, permanent damage to the valves and surrounding connective tissue, as a young boy led to an addiction to heavy drugs. And is the main influence behind Beth’s struggles with the chemical demons treating her like a puppet. But mostly this is a work of fiction. Albeit, one shot with exquisite taste and felt deep below the water line.
Scott Frank adapts and directs Tevis novel into a mini-series about an orphan chess prodigy set during the Cold War era. If you haven’t seen any of his previous work, both The Lookout (Joseph Gordon Lovett) and A Walk Among the Tombstones (Liam Neeson) are highly underrated. But his previous mini-series Godless was a true coming out party among the directing elite. He never breaks stride. Anya Taylor-Joy takes this straight to the top where the mini-series gold standard leaves little room for rote story threads and cliche themes. While it’s set in 50’s & 60’s, the current world at large is never taken for granted. Infusing the possibilities of a woman’s rising star despite the man’s world she treads. Often bull dozing her opponent with the grace of a hopped up Red Bull rhino who hates china shops. But it’s never played for vengeance or feelings of spite. Just a woman coming into her own.
Not everything has its place or perfect function on the board of her life. After her mothers death, slow burn drama fuel, she’s left to fend for herself in the safety of an orphanage for girls. Not a place where monsters horde over the castle but the lights run cold and dim none the less. The children are formed by the centuries of thought towards a woman’s role in the world. And carefully headed into a more managed living space for the staff with narcotics and strict routines. Beth quickly discovers these little green pills to be a gateway into many of the hurts under the surface. But also a brilliant mind waiting to unlock the courage and intelligence of a fierce queen protecting her king from 64 squares of a dog eat dog world. The school janitor relents to her persistence, submitting to the genius of a child prodigy. Not a father surrogate mind you but a learned war veteran of black versus white. Where knights, rooks and pawns are all under the authority of the queen, in her defense of the kings reputation. His short comings clearly defined as he’s only allowed to move one square diagonally or horizontally. As she dives deeper into the world of chess her addiction to drugs keeps in stride with the need to study, play and destroy her opponent.
Moses Ingram is Jolene, a firecracker of confidence and sisterly love, who gives the orphanage a lasting reminder that real friendship can bloom from some of the darkest times in our lives. A friend who can shape the lens with which you see the world, calling you out when the smell of your own stink is beginning to choke the future you were meant for. Marielle Heller rounds out the trio of Gambit’s brightest offerings. A Mom in waiting. A wife in limbo. A dreamer living for someone else’s dream. Highlighted by a swimming pool of vodka and onion’s. Her story isn’t heavy handed but there’s not denying the heavy heart at the core of her generations rally cry.
But it’s not just the story of a little girl who survives. Or a person who has to overcome the stilted love of men in her life. She could have easily been lost in the shuffle of mediocracy. Untapped potential swirling about the drain of false expectations. But her insatiable need to play, to win, propels her around the world fighting to make her mark. As fame and fortune affirm the need for a life of luxury. A byproduct of her need to be great. To be on top when the whole world says she was disqualified at birth.
I kind of feel like I’m rambling. Just know that if you brave the world of the mini-series (7 episodes in this case). Not hoping for some story that brings season after season of entertainment. Scott Franks adaption never wastes a minute and never leaves you wanting more. Just a story that fully satisfies. That I could easily rewatch in the future. And if Anya Taylor-Joy hasn’t officially gotten her superstar wings of approval may The Queens Gambit be her official coronation.
Trivia : Took nearly three decades to bring Tevis book to the screen, finally saving the adaption from development hell. At one time even Heath Ledger was attached to make his directorial debut before passing away due to overdose.
Country of Origin : U.S.
Greatest Quality : It would be easy to say Taylor-Joy is the best part of this. And you wouldn't be wrong. But really it's how the whole experience coalesces with artistic meaning and entertainment value.