THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT – Review by Susan Granger

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Who would have thought that this seven-episode Netflix series – built around an intellectual game like chess – could be so compelling?

It begins in Kentucky in 1958, as young Beth Harmon (Isla Johnston) is placed in a Dickensian orphanage after a car crash killed her mother. Tipped off by an older girl named Jolene (Moses Ingram), Beth discovers that they’re being force-fed habit-forming drugs to “tranquilize” them.

One day, when Beth wanders into the basement to clean erasers, she befriends the grumpy custodian, Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), who teaches her how to play chess. Beth becomes so adept so quickly that when she’s invited to compete with the local school’s chess team, she trounces every player.

Years pass and teenage Beth (Anya Taylor-Joy) is adopted by a suburban Lexington couple: alcoholic, piano-playing Alma (writer/director Marielle Heller) and Allston Wheatley (Patrick Kennedy), who often disappears on ‘business trips.’

Realizing that her phenomenal chess acumen is her ticket to fame and fortune, Beth starts competing in local tournaments, followed by national and international matches, culminating in Moscow, where she faces legendary Russian champion Vasily Bogov (Marcin Dorocinski).

Despite Beth’s confidently frosty demeanor, three different competitors (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Harry Melling) are openly vying for her attention and affection.

Based on a novel by Walter Trevis (“The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “The Hustler”), it’s written and directed by Scott Frank (“Godless”), who turns this fictional character-study into a fascinating coming-of-age drama about an obsessive, self-destructive young woman taking control of her life and succeeding in what is traditionally considered a man’s domain.

What’s most remarkable is the sustained tension of the chess scenes; filmed with authenticity, thanks to New York City chess coach Bruce Pandolfini and former world champion Garry Kasparov. And, if you’re intrigued about chess-on-film, find “Searching for Bobby Fischer” (1993) and “Queen of Katwe” (2016).

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Queen’s Gambit” is an intriguing 8 – about the emotional price paid for genius.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.