If someone felt cheated by the lack of strategy and grace in the ending of Game of Thrones, this one’s for them. Come step into the world of Beth Harmon, a chess player with a mind more cunning than Arya, and more vengeance for blood than Daenerys.
“The Queen’s Gambit” is a historical drama series which aired on Netflix in late October. The show was based on the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis and was directed by Allan Scott and Scott Frank.
In its first month, the “scripted limited series” broke viewership records with 62 million household views, according to Netflix’s tweet on Nov. 23. It has been a conversation starter since. “How to play chess” even trended on Google for a while.
Fun Fact: In March 2008, Allan Scott, formerly known as Allan Shiach, told The Independent he was working with Heath Ledger on a film adaptation of Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel “The Queen’s Gambit,” whose plot centers around a chess prodigy with a chequered history. The Independent also reported Scott was encouraged to direct and star alongside Oscar-nominated actress, Ellen Page. Their article went on to mention Ledger’s interest in the project is connected to his own struggle with substance abuse.
It is usually difficult for on-screen adaptations to live up to the world formed in the pages of a great book, but Netflix had no trouble. Netflix did what fans of fiction have been begging for, for years. They dissected the story into episodes, hardly leaving anything out. While many points of the novel were reworked for the show, they added their own flare and drama that never distracted from the main attractions of the story.
“The Queen’s Gambit” omnipresently follows Elizabeth (Beth) Harmon, as she navigates her way through life as a girl, chess champion and addict in 1960’s America. The text is full of flirtatious chess innuendos and rated R inner monologues of a neglected child.
One of the most notable differences between the novel and the show is the dialogue. Many lines given to supporting characters are actually pieces of Harmon’s thinking. As it is well known since chapter one (or episode one if you’re watching), Harmon is alone most of the time. And when she is with someone else, she’s thinking circles around them.
It was interesting to see how Netflix had to pull from Harmon to create the world around her in the show. For example, if Harmon makes a connection in the novel, the line, usually verbatim, will be heard coming from Benny Watts or maybe Mrs. Alma Wheatley. It fills out the world of “The Queen’s Gambit” very well on screen, but in the novel it’s all Harmon, all the time.
Readers get to be with Harmon as she grows through her most difficult times over a dozen years, with the help of too few people. Nearing the end of the novel Harmon is 18, and barely discovering how to be a friend after having to build barriers to protect herself “in a man’s world.”
The book itself is filled with the nuances of female pubescence, teenage trials, and battling addiction, all of this constantly sidelined by Harmon’s obsession with the game of chess.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this story in any format is the feeling of genius-adjacent. The audience is able to feel the wins and losses of Harmon’s games. They are allowed into her mind, to study and analyze with her. The tension of misstep hangs with viewers as much as Harmon. It is a feeling usually associated with heist movies or intense battle scenes.
“The Queen’s Gambit” portrays romantic and logistical relief between chess games. It deals with the burden of everyday tasks on someone without support. It illustrates Harmon’s beautiful non-nuclear family. It’s just one of those stories that reminds us that we’re human, and there’s no other way to be.