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The Queen’s Gambit (2020) Review

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The Queen's GambitTime: 393 Minutes
Cast:

Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon
Isla Johnston as young Beth
Bill Camp as Mr. Shaibel
Moses Ingram as Jolene
Christiane Seidel as Helen Deardorff
Rebecca Root as Miss Lonsdale
Chloe Pirrie as Alice Harmon
Akemnji Ndifornyen as Mr. Fergusson
Marielle Heller as Mrs. Alma Wheatley
Harry Melling as Harry Beltik
Patrick Kennedy as Allston Wheatley
Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as Townes
Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny Watts
Marcin Dorociński as Vasily Borgov
Director: Scott Frank

Set during the Cold War era, orphaned chess prodigy Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) struggles with addiction in a quest to become the greatest chess player in the world.

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I was quite interested in The Queen’s Gambit. The main reason was Anya Taylor-Joy being cast in the lead role, she’s one of the best up and coming actors working today, and I’m always interested in whatever projects she takes on. Additionally, a mini series about chess sounded quite interesting. I had high hopes for The Queen’s Gambit and it turned out way better than I thought it would. It is an excellent miniseries, well made on every level, and with another great lead performance from Anya Taylor-Joy.

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The Queen’s Gambit consists of 7 Episodes ranging from 45 minutes to just over an hour in length. That’s pretty short as far as shows go, but it was the perfect length for this story. None of the episodes or moments in those episodes felt like they were filler. A lot happens in each episode too, even the episodes that aren’t an hour long. The first episode doesn’t feature Anya Taylor-Joy as lead character Beth Harmon outside of the opening scene, as it’s mainly Beth at age 9 when she’s at an orphanage and learns about chess. While that episode is pretty much just her at the orphanage, it is nonetheless a very important episode with plenty of things that it sets up for the rest of the show to continue on with. I’ll say that if you watched the first episode and weren’t as engaged as you would’ve liked to have been, the second episode is definitely where things advance a lot more, as it moves beyond the orphanage. I won’t give too much story details beyond that, but I’ll say that it’s very engrossing watching the lead character, the places she goes and everything she goes through. You’re really engrossed into what’s happening over the course of the story, the characters are well realised, and Beth’s story is quite compelling. The Queen’s Gambit is actually based off a fictional novel, but if I didn’t know that going in, I would’ve thought that it was a biopic, that’s how well made the show was. When it comes to chess, you don’t need to be an expert on chess in order to love the show. The Queen’s Gambit doesn’t even try to really explain the whole game to the audience, and that works. You can still follow along with what’s happening with no problems. Additionally, I’ve heard that a lot of chess experts has said that the portrayal of chess in the show is very accurate, so take that how you will.

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The acting is great by everyone. Anya Taylor-Joy gives one of, if not her best performance yet as Beth Harmon. She really portrays this complex character very well, it’s such a nuanced performance that conveys so much with very little. She definitely makes it convincing that she’s a genius level chess player, who is going through lots of issues throughout the show. Also, Isla Johnston deserves some praise as the younger version of Beth (mainly in the first episode). The supporting cast are all great too. Marielle Heller plays Beth’s step-mother, and that relationship between the two was one of the biggest surprises, as it went in a different direction from what I expected from it. I know of Heller as the director of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Can You Ever Forgive Me and It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, but she’s shown here that she’s great at acting too and shares great chemistry with Taylor-Joy. Other performances such as Bill Camp as the janitor who teaches Beth chess, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Harry Melling and Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as other chess players also add a lot to the show.

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Scott Frank directed all the episodes of the show, and he did a fantastic job with them. It’s an incredibly well shot show, the cinematography is great, and so is the production and costume designs. The costumes that Anya wears in the second half of the show particularly stand out. It really does well at placing the show in the time periods of the 50s and 60s. Chess is a big part of the show as you can tell, and that aspect is portrayed very well. Even the visuals of chess on the ceiling that Beth occasionally imagines in her head could’ve come across as a bit cheesy but actually ends up working. The editing is excellent too, not only working to make the chess matches thrilling and suspenseful, but also keeping the flow of an episode going. Everything that’s in each of the episodes actually has a reason to be there, while not feeling way too trimmed down. One of the aspects that really stood out to me early from even the first episode was the score from Carlos Rafael Rivera, which was really great and fitted the show perfectly.

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The Queen’s Gambit is an enthralling show with a great and entertaining story, and is incredibly well made. Acting across the board was also all solid but it’s Anya Taylor-Joy who stands out, giving another fantastic and compelling lead performance. This show was one of the biggest surprises from 2020, definitely worth checking out as soon as you can.