‘The Queen’s Gambit’ Makes Chess Fashionable

Chess is not a popular game amongst Gen Z, but the success of Netflix’s stunning new limited series might change that.

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Jachym Michal / Unsplash @jachymmichal

The actors in The Queen’s Gambit actually memorized and played every chess game seen in the show.

With the rise of video games and technology, most teenagers and even adults prefer playing digital games over board games in 2021. That makes the success of Netflix show The Queen’s Gambit all the more surprising, as most people would not expect a show about the classic board game, chess, to be so wildly popular. Yet, Anya Taylor-Joy and her co-stars’ fantastic acting go hand in hand with the artful costumes and intriguing cinematography in order to make the show a new favorite for many. 

The show’s protagonist, Beth Harmon, is an orphan and chess prodigy who struggles with addiction. She learned chess from Mr. Shaibel, the janitor of Methuen Home, which is the orphanage she stayed at until she was adopted. The orphanage administered tranquilizers that Beth soon became addicted to and struggled with into adulthood. Yet, they are also what helped her envision chess games on the ceiling as she lay in bed developing strategies every night. The show takes viewers through her journey towards becoming a grandmaster chess player, including the hardships she encounters and the new family of friends that she creates for herself along the way.

Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Beth, has a diverse arsenal of talents from starring in other films such as Split and Emma. The Queen’s Gambit is another example of the wide variety of films that showcase her amazing acting, adding historical drama to her portfolio of psychological thrillers and romance films. Her natural way of presenting every subtle facial expression and delivering every line with the required emotion allows viewers to truly understand Beth as a character. Other actors such as Marcin Dorociński and Marielle Heller also do outstanding jobs at conveying the characters of stoic Soviet grandmaster Vasily Borgov and Beth’s complicated adoptive mother Alma Wheatley, respectively. 

Another key aspect of the show that captivates audiences is the fashion. Chess boards have 64 black and white squares lined up in checkered rows. The style of many of Beth’s outfits reflect the game she loves, as she wears coats in checkered patterns of pink, white, and beige. “Seeing a chess board translated to a coat via delicate pink and white squares, classic 1950’s A-line silhouettes, and Beth’s chic monochrome look in the final scene was a fashion lover’s dream. I immediately started looking into how I might be able to replicate some of Beth’s outfits in my day to day life,” said Enza Jonas-Giugni ’21.

“Everything is perfect. The outfits are truly stellar,” said Montana Lee ’21, who also recommended checking out the Brooklyn Museum exhibit showcasing fashion designs included in the show, available for viewing online. 

On top of this, all the actors used real chess strategies and memorized all the moves they would have to make. “I love how they made it so you can watch them play chess and make their moves, but you aren’t bored between each one,” said Naomi Liu 22.

But the show was not only about chess. It also portrays a compelling story about a woman’s struggle with addiction and growing up without her birth parents. Beth has her fair share of difficulties along the way, but it is her perseverance and grace that makes viewers want to root for her success. 

Nonetheless, one aspect that the show could have improved on was including a more diverse cast. When asked about an aspect of the show that he did not like, Briman Yang ’22 said, “All the master ranked chess players were not diverse at all.” A different film centered around chess players that does include BIPOC representation is Queen of Katwe, recommended by Akunna Njoku ’21. 

Due to the popularity of The Queen’s Gambit, Chess set sales have gone up by triple digits. “I used to play chess, and this show really spurred me to get back into the game and discover new strategies and techniques,” Jason Sethiadi ’21 said. Beth’s story has inspired many viewers to get back into the game and to develop more of an interest in it. 

Even if chess or fashion is not up your alley, the show has something for everyone. With the cold winter weather outside, it is the perfect time to snuggle up with a mug of hot chocolate and binge-watch all seven episodes of The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix (subscription required)! 

“Seeing a chess board translated to a coat via delicate pink and white squares, classic 1950’s A-line silhouettes, and Beth’s chic monochrome look in the final scene was a fashion lover’s dream. I immediately started looking into how I might be able to replicate some of Beth’s outfits in my day to day life,” said Enza Jonas-Giugni ’21.

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