Monday 9 November 2020

The Queen's Gambit

I know it’s been dissed a bit in some quarters, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit. I can see that it starts out brilliantly and finishes up rather conventionally, and maybe there was not enough story to sustain 7 x one hour episodes. But who cares, when the production values are so high, the design so beautiful, and it looks so good? Yes, Anya Taylor-Joy may spend a lot of time later on swanning around looking glamourous until it appears her character Elizabeth Harmon is serving as nothing more than an elegant clothes-horse for expensive fashion items, and her easy defeats of opponents may become a bit predictable (although she encounters tougher challenges as she reaches the summit), but I was still rooting for her all the way – especially in the heavily male-dominated world of competitive chess. Besides, her glamour is just a critique of the notion that a woman can’t be super smart and a knockout at the same time (a criticism addressed in her relationship with French model Cleo anyway). Look, I just plain liked the fact that the whole series stood on its head the often geeky, nerdy, buttoned-up image of high-level chess, and managed the not inconsiderable achievement of making chess look sexy. And I know that’s a bit like praising immaculate record production when the songs are naff, but in this case the material is not, in my opinion, naff at all. 


So many things I liked: the subtlety with which her amorous relationships with men (and women) were handled, everything understated; the Cold War atmosphere, which EH effectively disrupts in how she behaves after her triumph in Russia; the perfectly captured sense of stifling domesticity and thwarted ambition women suffered under in the ’50s, personified in the character of stepmom Alma (and also EH’s own birth mother); EH telling the good ladies of the Christian organisation which has been sponsoring her to take a hike when they want to use her as a propaganda tool – why? “Because it’s fucking nonsense?” (note the raised, interrogative, intonation); the sense it conveyed of what many top players – solitary, obsessive types – have spoken of as the appeal of chess, that they feel safe when playing, because it reduces the outside world to the sixty-four self-contained squares on the board. Finally, who doesn’t like a story of an orphan making their way in the world, overcoming adversity when the odds are stacked against them?


I’m no grandmaster (in fact, I’d be one of the amateurish guys Elizabeth Harmon would have blown away with bored, dismissive ease at the start of her career), but maybe you just need a passing interest in and appreciation of the game in order to fully enter into the JOY of the series. I could have watched it all day – and night. My kind of girl (although of course she’d break my proverbial heart).

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