TV Top Pick # 7: The Queen’s Gambit

By now you’ll know my top picks aren’t timely. My recommendations are along the lines of “this is something you really should watch and why,” versus trying to keep up with what is hot or trending. So this recommendation to watch The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, is probably a bit late.  But here is what I found noteworthy and compelling about it.

First, as a guy surrounded by smart, self-reliant, independent, strong-willed women (not the least being a wife, two daughters and two delightfully independent granddaughters), I cheered for this character from the start and blanched at the many ways in our not so distant past, society put women down and marginalized them at every opportunity.  Next, the time period of the series is the late 1960’s, so the cars, fashions, retail store layouts rang so true, it was just captivating to watch.  Anya Taylor-Joy playing Beth Harmon in the lead role puts on an acting master class in just about every scene.  Anyone studying acting to the point they learned how not to blink when the camera is on you, will admire her remarkable control and expressive eyes, most notably when she stares across a chessboard at her opponents.

Like many people, I learned the rules of chess when I was young, but was never able to get very good.  But one needs to know nothing of chess to enjoy this film.  Friends who’ve beat addiction issues have told me the film accurately captures how significant bad judgement can be viewed not only as normal, but as the only logical alternative in certain circumstances.  My good friend Chris Locke wrote: “Of course this movie is great. It’s based on a novel by Walter Tevis, who also wrote three other books made into films: The Hustler, The Color of Money and The Man Who Fell to Earth. I’m heartened, nay positively CHUFFED, that Beth escaped that horror show – and so did Bowie and your current interlocutor.”

The writing and directing is top notch, plainly done by professionals at the very top of their game. The sets show a exceptional eye and sensitivity in choice followed by what had to be budget-busting dedication to perfection. I would not be surprised to find myself watching the series again, just to focus on the sets.  One most capturing me were the hotels, in Las Vegas and Russia, specifically.  The hotel fronts, common areas and rooms were just unerringly correct.  The 1960s home, the New York basement apartment of Benny, the orphanage, the small drug store where she shoplifts Chess magazines and the women’s department store – and many more – hit just the right note.

I learned the term cinematography and what it meant while attempting to figure out why Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 movie, Barry Lyndon, was so good. Steven Meizler is the cinematographer credited for bringing it all together here, the writing, directing, set design, costumes and landscapes, knowing when to show wide shots and then cutting to close-ups that pull you into this incredible story of Harmon’s world.

Highly recommended.

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5 Responses to TV Top Pick # 7: The Queen’s Gambit

  1. Steve Follmer says:

    Per many recommendations, I have been watching The Queen’s Gambit with my 15 year old daughter. It has certainly been inspiring to her, as now she wants to become addicted to alcohol, and Librium (Xanax nowadays), and sleep around. By doing so, she will then become an international celebrity. That was my takeaway. I agree that the protagonist Beth faced many challenges in her life, but is the lesson, to address your problems with substance abuse.

    Here is a good website for assessing movies, tv shows, and books, that our children might see.

    Here are the world’s top 100 chess players. There is one woman on the list, Yifan Hou from China, at #88.


    • Steve Larsen says:

      Steve, It is great to hear from you. I trust all is well. I remember my daughters at 15 (well, one of them, anyway) and if you’re able to figure out what she’s thinking and taking away from a series like this, you are far more perceptive than I was. At 15 most kids present to parents the most opposite of what they think their parents would want them to be. It’s a necessary part of separating and becoming their own person. The daughter I was most involved with raising is now 36 and frequently surprises me with the degree the values we instilled in her as a child have become such a part of her life.

      • Steve Follmer says:

        Enjoying your blog Steve! You could title it The Ride of a Lifetime. Though, book by that name already exists.

        People do tell me some of the values eventually shine through. Indeed it is hard to understand her at 15. To those who don’t believe in entropy, I say: have kids.

  2. John J Gravley says:

    I love this series although I thought that might be mostly because I’ve always been fascinated by chess and have played countless games against people all over the world. I never played in any tournaments but am good enough to understand most of the concepts. I know they made this show so it would be equally interesting to both chess players and the general public, but I did occasionally find it frustrating that they didn’t focus on the board long enough for me to discern exactly what was happening in the game. That was my only complaint, though.

    • Steve Larsen says:

      John, agreed. I learned while researching my review that they were replicating many actual famous chess matches in the scenes being played. Perhaps chess aficionados or speed chest players could have recognized them in the few seconds the camera spent on the board, but not me.

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