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A Monthly Culture Matrix For the Cosmopolitan Traveler

The Queen’s Gambit

Netflix / Online / Film & TV

Netflix’s new series begins like an American, Cold War–era Jane Eyre.The Queen’s Gambit, based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel of the same title, starts off in an orphanage, where the heroine, Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), possesses that Brontë combination of chilly anti-sociality and fiery passion. She even has an Abigail of her own, her only friend, Jolene, played expertly by Moses Ingram. Unlike Jane, however, Beth is a prodigious chess player and pill popper, and it is these two talents, rather than, say, a Mr. Rochester type, that chart the course of her life. Out of girlhood, teenage Beth rises in the chess world—an achievement for her age and for her gender—climbing toward the rank of international grand master. She especially wants to defeat the U.S.S.R.’s seemingly unbeatable top player. But as her game strengthens, so does her taste for downers and drinks. While chess may seem dull, here it is not. Director Scott Frank instills each match with an anticipatory edge akin to those of great sports movies—I was shouting at the screen. And beyond the thrills of competition, the show is buoyed up by its large and remarkably strong supporting cast—Marielle Heller, as Beth’s boozy adoptive mother, is particularly captivating. It’s a deep and surprisingly bingeable watch. —C.J.F.

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