Netflix loves a good psychological thriller, and new series The Queen's Gambit is the perfect addition to its wide catalogue of projects that will keep you at the edge of your seat until the very end. The show follows one woman's deep dive into the male-dominated world of professional chess, fueled by an obsession with succession and nearly hindered by her consistent substance abuse. Though its plot speaks to the realities of the time, the period drama isn't necessarily based on a true story; it's just a very accurate examination of the times.
Anya Taylor-Joy stars as Beth Harmon, a gifted young woman who develops a love for the game of chess while living in an orphanage. After she's adopted by an estranged couple, Beth's skill at chess begins to grow exponentially; she beats local champions, national legends, and even gets to compete in global competitions. The sport is taken with her — a woman, defeating season chess grandmasters? Unheard of! But even as much as our heroine is driven by her wins on the chessboard, Beth's addiction to drugs and alcohol as well as her growing anxiety about her visibility as a chess star threaten to ruin everything she's worked so hard for.
The Netflix film is an adaptation of Walter Tevis's 1983 eponymous novel, likely inspired by the author's own experience in the sport. Tevis himself was a chess enthusiast, learning the complicated game when he was just seven years old and becoming a "class-C player." While his rank wasn't exactly savant-level — class-C is pretty low in the chess hierarchy — there's no doubt that Tevis probably came across his fair share of opponents like Beth during his matches.
One such opponent or chess legend who might have inspired The Queen's Gambit is Bobby Fischer. Like Beth, a young Fischer quickly rose in ranks throughout the 1950s and early 60s, defeating seasoned players game after game to become the youngest grandmaster in the world at the time. Unfortunately, Fischer's rapid ascent to chess stardom came with an increasingly apparent paranoia that was only heightened after he famously had to forfeit his world championship title in 1975.
The Queen's Gambit may be a work of fiction, but it was influenced heavily by the hyper-competitive nature of chess that often pushed even its most gifted players to the edge. Beth doubles as both an intriguing protagonist as well as an unfortunate victim of the game.
The Queen's Gambit is now streaming on Netflix.