The Queen’s Gambit is
the latest show on Netflix unlike any other movie about chess that has added a potent voice to the list of
beautifully executed drama series in 2020. It has masterfully used chess to
explain subtle feminist notes without looking hammered. It doesn’t matter if
you’re aware of the strategies applied in this game, you’ll somehow find
yourself engrossed in the story – even if you detest slow-burners.
The series is based on
the 1983 novel of the same title by Walter Tevis and Scott Frank is the
director as well as the screenplay writer. Anya-Taylor Joy steps into the shoes
of Beth Harmon, an orphan, who accidentally discovers her passion for real life chess at
the age of nine. She finds a mentor in Mr. Shaibel who was a janitor at the
orphanage she was bought to after her mother committed suicide. She also
develops an addiction to drugs in this orphanage – the tranquilizing drug helps
her imagine her games right before she secures her wins.
At a very young age,
Beth transforms herself into a chess prodigy. She finds international fame
after wiping one victory after the other and ruthlessly beating chess
opponents in national competitions.
If you only look at the
promotional images, you’ll assume that The Queen’ Gambit is nothing more than a
stylish, female-driven series that tries to make chess look sexy. However, in
the pilot episode, you’ll find yourself discovering subtle feminist messages
that have been delicately woven into the storyline.
The best thing about
this show is that it doesn’t come across as preachy – feminist takes aren’t in
your face. On the contrary, its brilliant writing creates irresistible nuances
that bring out its true meaning without looking stigmatized. The word feminist won’t be used as a
propaganda and the messaging won’t be shoved in your face or scream war chants,
like “girl power”.
There won’t be a single
moment in the show that makes you think “Oh, women are great and who needs
men?” – This angle is different but debatable.
The whole idea of
feminism, in this enchanting series, isn’t limited to power dynamics. Instead, the show approaches both genders in
a unique fashion – they’ll get invited to the game if they manage to earn
respect, regardless of gender.
There’s one memorable
scene in the series, where Beth is interviewed by a magazine. The entire
interview, unfortunately, was only about her gender. The interesting thing here
is that she never uses words like “empowered” in her response – and this was a
trippy situation that could’ve easily faltered the overall configuration of the
show and categorized Harmon in the overused trope of ‘strong woman in a man’s
Does that mean that
Beth isn’t bothered by the media that is constantly trying to put her in a box?
Of course not! She views herself outside the “boy’s club” and finds random
categorization appalling. She feels that her independence has nothing to do
with her gender. She is a clever woman who embraces her femininity without
jeopardizing her intelligence. She doesn’t feel secluded or held-back in a male-dominated
One of the top lines
that came out of the show was this: Chess isn’t always competitive, chess can
also be beautiful. This line trashes the misconception that feminism is all
about bashing men and thinking women are superior – that’s misandry. The series
calmly addresses the confusion regarding women who don’t follow the footsteps
paved for them nor does it claim that women must win the game they’re playing
Beth Harmon is not
playing against men; she’s playing to become the best chess player in the
world. She finds success and appreciation from her former competitors, Benny
Watts, Harry Beltik, even Grandmaster Vasily Borgov. She isn’t fighting against
men or society, she’s fighting her inner demons and she does come out victorious
all with the help of her male and female friends.
One of the main themes
of the show is addiction. We see women battling alcoholism as well as drug
abuse – which is interesting because we usually see male geniuses struggling
with substance abuse. It’s an awful sight for mainstream media to view women
battling with this horrible disease.
Beth becomes addicted
to tranquilizers as a minor – from breaking into the orphanage’s stash to
stealing her adoptive mother’s prescription, she is seen in an ugly state.
Soon, she becomes an alcoholic that leads to her ultimate downward spiral.
Basically, the show showed to us that addiction isn’t pretty and both genders
are prone to it. So instead of romanticizing this mental health concern, try to
view it in a better light.
The real beauty of The
Queen’s Gambit is that it doesn’t stick to repetitive feminist themes. Beth
doesn’t scream for attention from her male competitors – she earns admiration
and respect through her skill and geniuses. Not once in the series does demand
to be treated like a queen – she simply becomes one.