"Chess can be beautiful. It was the board I noticed first. It's an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it. I can dominate it. And it's predictable, so if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame."
As the young protagonist of Netflix's latest hit 'The Queen's Gambit' speaks these words, the viewers must wonder if she is only talking about chess or something bigger. It seems like the miniseries is going beyond a simple game of chess, and taking on a life of its own.
'The Queen's Gambit' follows a young chess prodigy, Beth Harmon, who upon losing her mother ends up in an orphanage. Her story is one of abandonment and addiction. During her time in the orphanage and later at her adopted home, her place in the world always makes her feel inferior and leads her to find solace in chessboards.
The young prodigy stuns local and state grandmasters as she travels across the US competing from one tournament to another, while dominating her supposed male 'superiors'. Her take on life can be described in her mother's words:
"The strongest person is the person who isn't scared to be alone."
It is quite simple, yet painful for an orphan. One does not need to understand the rules of chess to feel the way Beth Harmon does while channelling her anger, frustration and disappointment through the chessboards to 'destroy' her opponents.
Yet, 'The Queen's Gambit' is not merely about chess or a young girl's struggle with life. As the series is adapted from Walter Tevis' 1983 book of the same name, it also focuses on the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Beth Harmon's dream of beating world champion Vasily Borgov, the Russian grandmaster, resembles the chess rivalry of the 1960s between the superpowers.
Also, the seven-episode miniseries presents a compelling story that revolves around family and relationships. Beth Harmon's adoptive mother Mrs Weatley's painful life experiences and her close relationship with Beth create an atmosphere which dives deep into the human psyche and tries to explain the feeling of belonging. It also tackles social problems like misogyny and patriarchy.
Peter Friedlander, the vice-president of Netflix, talks about what he makes of the protagonist in a delightful way:
"Her success — against the odds — speaks to the importance of perseverance, family, and finding, and staying true to yourself."
And that is exactly what this story is all about – perseverance and staying true to oneself. Also, the fact that people can identify themselves with an underdog who, against all odds, seeks to find a place for herself in this world is quite apparent from the series' overwhelmingly success.
From its release on October 23, the show has been streamed in 62 million households in just 28 days! Figures like that resemble that of Netflix's biggest hits like the documentary on Tiger Woods, which was watched in 64 million households in its first month or the fantasy-adventure hit series 'The Witcher', which was streamed by 76 million people last year. The series has also been rated highly by critics as well.
The New York Times called it 'one of the best and most successful screen adaptation of the game' while Rotten Tomatoes has rated it 100 percent on Tomato Meter by giving it a perfect score. IMDB also praised its brilliant narrative and thrilling plotline by awarding it 8.8 out of 10.
But, the series has not only been a triumph of storytelling.
The series has also caused global sales of chessboards to go up tremendously. 'The Guardian' reported that chess manufacturers saw 215 percent to 1,000 percent surge in their sales after the series began to air. The gaming site chess.com has also experienced a surge in new members as millions of people have rushed to play chess online.
People have also been interested in the series' aesthetics. Stunning interior designs, wallpapers and the show's fashion sense have earned fervent praises too.
The cast has also been quite brilliant as Anna Taylor-Joy shines as Beth Harmon. The 24-year old actress gives quite an unforgettable performance as she plays the troubled teen chess-prodigy struggling with the world. Marielle Heller as Alma Wheatley is also a delight to watch. As Beth's adoptive mother, Mrs Weatley, she gave us a vivid display of life's dark sides while Thomas Brodie-Sangster's portrayal of Benny Watts (Beth's rival and later friend) shows the lighter and fun side of life.
Most of the other actors have also portrayed their roles memorably while bringing out complex social issues like bullying, drug abuse and racism. And just like the actors, the screenplay writers and director Scott Frank have also carried out their jobs to perfection with brilliant scenes, witty dialogues and stunning visual effects. So much so that when the final episode (playfully titled 'End Game') ends and the credits start rolling, it truly seems that 'The Queen's Gambit' is an experience worth having and a journey worth sharing.