”A Coming-Of-Age Mini-Series” – TV Review: The Queen’s Gambit

Kiah Tooke

*This article contains spoilers for The Queen’s Gambit*

Reinventing Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel of the same name, The Queen’s Gambit was released on Netflix in 2020 as a coming-of-age mini-series following the life of Beth Harmon, an orphaned girl with aspirations to become the next chess grandmaster. The show was co-created by Scott Frank and Allan Scott, staring Anya Taylor-Joy alongside other Hollywood stars such as Harry Melling and Thomas Brodie-Sangster.

The Queen’s Gambit is named after a special chess opening in three moves that is designed secure control of the centre of the board; the mini-series follows a similar trend as it observes Beth trying to gain control over the different parts of her life during the 1960s, the cold war period in America. This is significant as Beth faces numerous challenges due to the male dominated field of chess as the time, but also the issue of playing in the major chess tournaments held in the USSR, as Beth is American. However, throughout her journey to chess stardom, Beth battles addiction and loss, from losing her adopted mother to becoming addicted to the tranquillisers which she grew up taking.

The mini-series is set in many exciting locations as it follows Beth’s journey playing tournaments across America and then, as she grows up, across the world. Beth goes from humble beginnings at Methuen Home, an orphanage for Christian girls, to jetting across the world to lavish places such as the Aztec Palace Hotel (The Friedrichstadt-Palast in Berlin). The Queen’s Gambit has received numerous positive reviews from its audience and critics, holding an impressive score of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and ranking No. 1 on Netflix in 63 countries worldwide. The show’s extensive sets and immersive narrative make it an easy binge watch as it currently has 7 episodes and a run time of around 6 hours. Critics have also been keen to praise the show’s portrayal of chess as exciting but at the same time accurate, not forsaking authenticity for dramatic effect.

the show does have some room for improvement in their perpetuation of stereotypes

However, despite the positive reviews which The Queen’s Gambit has received, some critics feel as if the show mishandled the character of Jolene, who Beth meets at Methuen Home. Undoubtably, the show is lacking in representation as Moses Ingram, the actor who plays Jolene, is the only major black character that features in the series. Whilst the show does draw upon the struggles Jolene faces due to her race, such as when she describes herself as ‘too black’ to be adopted in 1960s America, her character still feels underdeveloped and borders on racial tokenism. The show’s ending also sees Jolene’s character appearing to fall into the harmful trope which Insider describes as ‘”modern mammy” territory’; this references the negative trope that relies on a black women to further the desires of the white protagonist. The writers for The Queen’s Gambit attempt to remedy this stereotype, with Jolene asserting to Beth that she is ‘not here to save’ her, but the sentiment is undermined by the lack of character development Jolene has after rescuing Beth from her addiction problems and financial loan. Although there is some self-awareness within the characterisation of Jolene, the show does have some room for improvement in their perpetuation of stereotypes.

Kiah Tooke

Featured image courtesy of Mollie Sivaram via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @the.queensgambitnetflix via No changes made to these images.

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