‘The Queen’s Gambit’ Review: A Feminist Story of Mastery

The Queens Gambit Review

Spoilers below

The Queen’s Gambit miniseries, created by Scott Frank and Allan Scott, follows chess prodigy Beth Harmon on her feminist journey to become a true master of the game. The miniseries starts in the mid-1950s with Beth as a nine-year-old orphan learning chess from the orphanage’s janitor Mr. Shaibel. The episodes span the years from there, ending in 1960’s Russia playing the Soviet Union chess grandmasters to become the world champion. Harmon is a chess genius who happens to be a woman.

Beth Harmon mistakenly ties drug addiction to her chess genius. The girl’s orphanage tranquilized their charges, and Beth’s best friend Jolene taught her to take the tranquilizers after bedtime because that’s when it worked the best. Beth became addicted to drugs as she learned chess at the same time she started popping pills. The first time she takes a tranquilizer, she can visualize a chessboard on the ceiling. As soon as Mr. Shaibel plays chess with her, she can play chess games on the ceiling.

After laws pass banning drugging children, Beth steals tranquilizers from the orphanage’s infirmary and later from her adopted mother, Mrs. Alma Wheatley. I believe Beth refuses to give up the drugs because she thinks she wouldn’t be brilliant anymore. But Beth is mistaken. Even before the nine-year-old started taking tranquilizers, she began forming the chessboard on the ceiling. It was not until Beth dealt with her depression that she could visualize a chess game on the ceiling without drugs. Beth’s chess mastery is not linked to her drug and alcohol addiction, but it is why she didn’t seek treatment for the longest time.

The Queen’s Gambit is a true feminist masterpiece. Beth is a chess badass who doesn’t let rules of femininity or masculinity rule her life. When Beth starts earning real money at chess tournaments, she dresses more stylishly but has no interest in “girly things.” She relishes beating her opponents, but she enjoys chess for its beauty. She loves the chessboard because it’s a world with strict clear rules, unlike the real world. 

For the most part, Beth plays by instinct rather than studying other people’s games. The men act like chess is a war, but for her, it’s an art form.

Over the years, she earns the respect of the majority of the male-dominated chess world. However, when Beth first began competing, the men see her as just a silly teenage girl. The minute the teenager beats everybody, including some of the greats, she earns their respect. Some of the men are even afraid to play her. 

Beth earns the respect of the majority of the male-dominated chess world. When Beth begins competing, the men think she is just a silly teenage girl. The minute the teenager beats everybody, including some of the greats, she earns their respect. Some of the men are even afraid to play her in chess.

Beth becomes known as a child prodigy, but she is frustrated that most articles are centered on her being a girl. She wants to be respected for her chess moves, not her gender. The moments that mean the most to Beth is when chess masters compliment her. Game respects game. 

The most remarkable scene is after an adult Beth beats the former World Chess Champion Vasily Borgov. The only player that Beth has ever been afraid to play. When they played before, he won twice. After Beth beats Borgov, he tells her that the game is hers. Borgov orders Beth to take his queen that’s on the palm of his hand. She reaches out for the piece, but he grips her hand. Borgov pulls Beth up, and they hug. She earns the respect of the masculine chess masters, who see her as an equal because they recognize her talent and hard work. 

Beth’s adopted mother, Alma, was a gifted pianist but never rose to prominence because the men in her life kept pushing her down. Unlike Alma, the people in Beth’s life recognize her talent, encouraging her to rise to the level of a chess grandmaster.

The team Beth creates around her makes it possible for her to become the World Chess Champion. In the United States and many Western nations, it’s all about the individual, but sometimes you need multiple minds working on one project. 

Throughout The Queen’s Gambit, the Soviet Union is the best chess nation, because the players work together. The night before Beth beats the older master Luckenho, she spies on him working on their game in a hotel conference room. He is trying to find ways to defeat Beth with some of the other Russian Chess masters. 

Before Beth’s trip to the Soviet Union, she dried out. She can’t project the chessboard on the ceiling anymore. After Beth admits to her friend Towne that she doesn’t think she can win clear-headed, he gathers support for her. When she wakes up, Towne hands her the hotel phone. All of her friends and competitors, including another chess master Benny Watts and her first significant opponent Harry Beltik, have planned out moves for her to make based on anything Borgov might try to pull during their final chess game. 

Without the team behind Beth, she wouldn’t have had the confidence to play Borgov, then finally beat him when she re-awakens her ability to play chess in her mind. There is no way to become a world champion, win a basketball game, build a significant company, or do anything extraordinary without a team behind you.

I recommend everybody check out The Queen’s Gambit. You don’t have to be a chess lover to get into the miniseries. 

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