“My tranquility needs to be refurbished.”Alma Wheatley
When you play a lot of chess, you start recognizing what “Hollywood” dresses up in films to increase drama or exaggerate details to cue the audience what is happening in a game. So when Queen’s Gambit arrived on Netflix, it went to the top of my must-watch list. Would Gambit deliver real goods?
The creators hired former world champion Grandmaster Garry Kasparov and chess guru Bruce Pandolfini, who worked with Gambit’s executive producer William Horberg on another chess film, Searching for Bobby Fisher. They packed a great cast too: Anya Taylor-Joy’s scorching stare, Marielle Heller who probably had the best line in Gambit, and the Love Actually kid Thomas Brodie-Sangster turned out alright.
That being said, here are my observations. Please note, there are SPOILERS ahead if you haven’t finished the series yet.
First, the obvious shortcuts.
Play speed and tournament game schedules are truncated in Gambit for the sake of plot pacing. I understand that creative decision; it’s not too much fun to watch a player tank for over 30 minutes randomly without a move. I’m glad Gambit still gave us that great Paris scene where Harmon’s position’s falling apart, and she just blanks, resigning to Borgov.
I thought they did a good job capturing “player tics” like combing hair, fidgeting fingers, etc. too.
Beth Harmon was Bobby Fischer with Alex Alekine’s alcoholism.
US Americans will never get over our chess messiah, Bobby Fischer, but she’s basically Bobby, right? They share similar traits: a chess prodigy, loved playing e4 (“Best by test”), did flashy mid-game sacrifices (see: Bobby’s Trap), and for the finale game, Harmon switches it up to Queen’s Gambit Opening against Borgov, similar to what Fischer did against Spassky during the 1972 World Championships (D).
I question her substance abuse though, maybe the pills, but it’s REALLY hard to play high-level chess consistently without lifetime sobriety. Alex Alekhine struggled with alcoholism in the 1930s, but like Harmon, his performance came and went depending on how hard he was drinking.
Speaking of that finale game…
The Gambit writers used a game that happened in real life…and probably used engines to make an even flashier ending for it! It’s not every day you see a pro queen sacrifice to force the win. Borgov had much respect for Harmon by playing it out.
Overall, the cast held it together for me. Melis mentioned it was nice you didn’t have to like chess to really get into the Queen’s Gambit, so it’s couples-approved. But please, we need MORE blitz chess. That’s the juicy stuff that’s happening on Twitch, someone needs to cash in on that!