A year after checkmate: the success of The Queen’s Gambit

Lily Hemmeter, Staff Writer

Let me take you back to October of 2020: the pandemic was raging on, school existed on a computer screen, and everyone was buzzing about “that one chess show”. That’s right, it has been one full year since the hit Netflix miniseries, The Queen’s Gambit, took the world by storm. 

The show has been met with immense success, displayed by the 11 Emmy awards it recently won and the 87% increase in chess set sales during the three weeks following the show’s release, according to NPD Group. 

In case you somehow managed to avoid the hype surrounding the show, allow me to enlighten you. Set in the 1950s and 60s, the show centers around Beth Harmon, an orphaned girl who accidentally discovers her extraordinary ability in chess. Viewers are taken along to Beth’s various tournaments as she checkmates her way to the top of the (male dominated) chess community, all while struggling with pill and alcohol addictions. 

During an interview with The American Film Institute, writer and director of the show, Scott Frank, expressed how he didn’t expect it to take off: 

“I had a wonderful time making it in Berlin…and I thought ‘ok this is the end of that’…I didn’t know if anyone would even care; it was chess afterall,” Frank said.

Clearly, people cared. The show garnered 62 million views after just four weeks. So how did a show about an orphan chess prodigy gain this much traction? As it turns out, word of mouth combined with the pandemic may have played a huge part. After living in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak for nearly 8 months, Americans were desperate for any type of distraction from the constant anxiety that plagued them. The Queen’s Gambit, with its gorgeous aesthetics and captivating plot, was just what people craved. 

The show was recommended to me by family members, and I was skeptical as I began the first episode due to my lack of knowledge of the game of chess, but after a few minutes in, I was hooked! While it is a “chess show”, it’s actually about the cost of genius through a unique feminine perspective. With such a wide array of elements to it, there really is something for everyone to enjoy in this series. My personal favorite parts of The Queen’s Gambit were the music, the costumes and the acting. Costume designer Gabriele Binder did an amazing job of displaying Beth’s character evolution through beautiful vintage-style clothing. Beth’s fascination with fashion proves that glamour and genius are not mutually exclusive.

Actress Anya Taylor-Joy was the real star of the show. Her portrayal of Beth Harmon was both raw and mesmerizing. It is clear that she poured so much of herself into this performance. The ensemble of the show was also incredible with actors such as Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Bill Camp, Moses Ingram, and Marielle Heller. 

When asked in a Gold Derby interview what word she would use to describe her experience on the show, Taylor-Joy said, “Cohesion…everybody was making the same show, and that is rare.”

If you couldn’t already tell, I absolutely love this show. I think it is the result of creative people coming together to work on a passion project. It is deserving of its acclaim, and I would confidently rate it a five out of five stars.